Karol Mason on Reforming America’s Criminal Justice System
Karol Mason is the president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, a legal pioneer and one of the nation’s leading voices in criminal justice reform.
Prior to entering academia, Mason served as a former assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Justice Programs under then-president Barack Obama. In this role, she oversaw state and local criminal justice agencies and juvenile justice programs as well as the National Institute for Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Earlier in her career, Mason spent three decades practicing law for an international firm headquartered in Atlanta.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Lisa Hamilton recently spoke with Mason about the nation’s criminal justice system, how police fit within it, why incarceration isn’t the answer for justice-involved youth, and where the greatest opportunities exist to drive meaningful reforms.
A big thank you to Mason for chatting with us!
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In this episode on reforming the nation’s criminal justice system, you’ll learn
- What the criminal justice system can learn from the nation’s health care model.
- What it means to co-produce public safety.
- Why we need more funding streams that incentivize — not just penalize.
- How a justice lens shapes learning at John Jay College.
- Which criminal justice reforms our local, state and federal leaders should be advancing next.
- How to evolve our criminal justice system to help young people succeed.
- The powerful role that credible messengers can play in supporting public safety.
In Karol Mason’s own words…
“Police don’t own public safety. Communities own public safety.”
“We’ve got an opportunity, again, to get it right this time, by investing in education, by investing in healthcare, investing in job creation, investing in the environment in which people grow up and live.”
“In the U.S. is we’re so quick to send people to jail as if that’s the only way to hold somebody accountable. It’s not. And, so, the question is, how do you hold people accountable while putting them on a path to success?”
“When people who are incarcerated have an opportunity to get a college education, it changes their life opportunities when they come out. It changes how their children see them, and it changes their involvement and interest in their own children’s education. That’s cycle breaking right there.”
Resources and links
- Lisa Hamilton on Twitter
- John Jay College of Criminal Justice
- Future of Public Safety report
- Yale Child Study Center
- A Shared Sentence
- Prison-to-College Pipeline program
- President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing
- National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice
- National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives
About the Podcast
CaseyCast is a podcast produced by the Casey Foundation and hosted by its President and CEO Lisa Hamilton. Each episode features Hamilton talking with a new expert about how we can build a brighter future for kids, families and communities.
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From the Annie E. Casey Foundation, I'm Lisa Hamilton, and this is CaseyCast.
Today's guest is Karol Mason, a legal pioneer in one of the nation's leading voices in criminal justice reform. Since August of 2017, she has served as president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, part of the City University of New York system.
In 2013, Karol was appointed assistant attorney general and head of the Office of Justice Programs during the Obama administration, where she oversaw state and local criminal justice agencies and juvenile justice programs, as well as the National Institute for Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Prior to that, she served as a deputy associate attorney general from 2009 to 2012.
Karol also had a distinguished three-decade legal career at the Atlanta law firm Alston & Bird, where she was elected as chair of the management committee, making her the first African American woman to hold such a position at any major national law firm in the United States.
Welcome Karol. It is such a pleasure to have you on CaseyCast.
Hello, Lisa. It's wonderful to be here with you.
So, you are leading a liberal arts college where courses are taught through a justice-focused lens; and so, John Jay really has a unique approach to educating its students. I'd love to hear more about that, and what drives the need for an institution like this that teaches both future law enforcement officers and those looking to reform the criminal justice system?
Well, thank you for giving me an opportunity to talk about my favorite subject. The whole issue of criminal justice reform and what we're doing at John Jay are in tandem.
So, our wonderful students are attracted to John Jay, because they think of everything they do through a justice lens. Our science majors, I love to hear them talk about the fact that they're studying diseases and how they impact communities of color differently. How they're thinking about studying diseases that other people don't study that primarily impact communities of color. Our theater students think about everything through a justice lens.
So, everything that we do touches on justice. And the challenge with that is everything we do touches on justice; and they demand and expect a certain framework within the institution, as well as outside in the world. So, for me, it's the perfect place to be to understand how our young people think and where they want the country to go. It's also a wonderful incubator for ideas and things to figure out how do we improve.
So, one of the things that I think tells a lot about our students is that after George Floyd, the Black Student Union sent a statement and a request and a demand to all of us at John Jay and they said, "We're not just interested in words, we want to see action." And because of their persistence... And I've told them, "I welcome your protest,” because that's the only way we're going to change things, and I don't control the curriculum. But because of their persistence in their demands, we worked something that I've never seen happen so quickly. We adopted within a year, seven principles of how to have an antiracist curriculum at John Jay. We also had departments revamping their curriculum and their courses in order to respond to this demand from our students.
So, I'm excited that not only are we producing students who demand justice, but they are also demanding that we educate them differently in response to the world and give them a strong foundation in learning that is antiracist and, has different perspectives on what our history is, because history is all about who tells it, and they're requiring us to tell not just history but science, math, everything, through a multicultural antiracist lens.
Well, it sounds like they are pushing you both to make the university and institution stronger, but that they are building skills that are then going to make our communities and cities stronger. What do you hope John Jay students are going to do out in the world with that rich education you give them?
Well, I'm going to tell you what I know they're going to do, not just what I hope they're going to do, because I've already seen it and witnessed it.
Unlike a lot of schools, our students are really special. Everybody thinks their students are special. But what I think distinguishes them is that they come to school not thinking about themselves and their own personal growth. They think about what are they going to do for their communities and the larger world when they come out. And so they give me hope. There are days when I look at what's happening in the world and whenever I'm really down, I just make sure I go have some interaction with students, because their commitment and their passion to change is what energizes me and gives me hope.
And I know that we are equipping them with the skills to go out and be law enforcement officers. We send more minority applicants to law school than most other schools in the country; we are number eight in the country. So, we're diversifying the law enforcement, we're diversifying the legal profession, we're diversifying science, whatever they go into. And most of our students go into some social service job, because of their commitment to doing things for their community and making a difference in the world.
Criminal justice is so central to so many of the conversations that are taking place today. How are you and John Jay preparing students for careers and leadership roles in the field and in industry during a possible inflection point?
I want to talk about what I'm doing, but I also want to talk about what they're doing.
One of the things our students did was they planned their own town hall. And they had Chuck Ramsey who was cochair of the President Obama's 21st Century Policing Task Force. I didn't even know how to reach Chuck directly, but they got him. So, after that, I do have his text now, but they had Chief Ramsey. They had our professors who do a lot of work, Professor Nadal, in micro-aggressions. And they really gave the history and definition of what racism is, and then talked about, how do we move forward. And I thought, okay, these young folks are impressive. So, they are already thinking about how are we going to create a world that's different and better. So, they're not waiting for me.
But what I did is, so for me when the George Floyd murder happened, and it caused me some tension with our black students because I didn't respond for a week, because I had, as I told them, I said, "Sometimes I have to process as well. I can't always be presidential."
And it was personal to me because you mentioned that I was the assistant attorney general for the Office of Justice Programs, and I had put nearly $6 million into a program called Building Community Trust and Justice. And Minneapolis was one of our pilot sites. We spent millions of dollars and several years in Minneapolis working with the police department in the community. So, every police officer in Minneapolis was trained on procedural justice, implicit bias and we did racial-reconciliation work there with the city of Minneapolis. And then George Floyd happens. The goal of the work was to make sure we never had a Michael Brown, and instead we had something beyond anybody's comprehension that anyone could do. And so, for me, it was gut wrenching to think about how could we have done things differently.
And so that, as you mentioned, I hope is a true inflection point and not just a moment in time where we really rethink and look at public safety differently. And so I created a series of six conversations bringing in mayors, police chiefs, public health officials, union officials, young people, organizers, everybody across the spectrum because I thought if we take the temperature down and start talking about what does public safety look like, and how do we get there, and then what's the role of policing in it, so that we don't start the conversation with using police to achieve public safety. We start with defining what public safety is, what it looks like, where investments are needed. And then what's the role of police in that.
And so I am optimistic about the work because we reached nine points of consensus. I remember someone on my team before we started the work saying, "Well, what happens if we don't have consensus?" And I had great faith that we would. Nine exceeded my expectations. The report is there. You just Google Future of Public Safety. And it was done in partnership with the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.
And I thought if a black woman president of a police college and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives can't help the country figure out how to move forward, then shame on us.
And so, it is my passion and my life passion at this stage in my life to get it right this time, and not just for the short term. I don't want to have anybody revisit this 50 years from now. I'm old enough that I saw this 50 years ago, I won't make it through the next 50 years, and I want to make sure that your children, the children were educating, don't sit here 50 years from now and say they got it wrong.
I just wanted to remark on how much I agree with you on this idea of young people's leadership, that what you get to see up close and personal at John Jay is the energy, the innovation and passion of young people that I 100% agree with you is going to drive this country forward. And so, what a great leader you are, to not resist that energy but to embrace it and to learn with them and through them in this work. And so thank you for what you're doing to not just educate this next generation of young leaders, but to be educated by them.
One of the things that I'm trying to teach them and help them to learn is that we've also got to give people room to make mistakes and room to get it wrong. They have this impatience and need to see the world look like what we promised them it would be, but some of their expectations in understanding there are balances, there are multiple stakeholders and things you've got to balance.
So, trying to get them to understand that I will disappoint them from time to time because I can't do what they want me to do because I'm thinking about the larger picture, meaning having the resources to make sure I can give them this wonderful education.
So in talking about George Floyd and how you felt about what happened, you mentioned investments you made when you were in the Department of Justice and I'd like to explore a little more about your tenure there. You worked to improve community trust in the justice system. I'd love to hear you reflect on those efforts and is there anything you do differently today? How would you approach that work today?
I need to give credit to folks from the outside. So the then-president of John Jay, Jeremy Travis, wrote a letter to me as the assistant attorney general, cosigned by Tracey Meares and Tom Tyler from Yale, Phil Goff, who is now at UCLA, but they wrote me a letter as the assistant attorney general in the wake of Trayvon Martin, before Michael Brown ever happened, and said, "We think the Department of Justice can play a role in addressing community trust in our criminal justice system, and that it's important to do."
And so, we had this big meeting with them at the Department of Justice to hear them out and hear what they were thinking. They said that we've done all this research on procedural justice, implicit bias and racial reconciliation, but nobody's brought them all together.
And so, I cobbled together the money because I had no funding stream for it. The initiative focused on policing because that's the entry point for so many people into our criminal justice system. Most people never make it to court, never see a defense lawyer and never see a judge, never see a prosecutor. But the work was always intended to really go through the whole spectrum of criminal justice, but we didn't have the money for that.
So, this was a starting place, again, because it's the place where most people have their first touch, good and bad, because not all touches with the police are bad, because we want police to have good relationships with the community and want to be part of the success of a community.
It was a three-year project with six pilot sites, and some have been more successful than others because we took them where they were. We wanted cities in different places in how they were working with their communities.
But it's long hard work and what our public health people remind us all the time is we're lucky if we see the change in 10 years, because this is long-term investment. And I think that's the challenge for people to realize that it's going to exceed election cycles. The question is, are you committed to the work that somebody else may get credit for later on? And I'm committed to the work that somebody else may get credit for later on.
And what did you learn about what it would take to build community trust and the commitment of those inside the system to do the work that was going to be required?
Three years was not enough. And we knew that you had to stay with it, but we didn't have any money. The question now is whether communities are committed to using their own resources to keep this going.
And to stay in the course and to be committed over the long term.
Yeah. And my view and my hope is that with all this federal stimulus money that's coming into communities, coming into school districts, coming into local government, that we use it strategically to really address systemic inequities, because we've got to say the words, there is systemic racism. We've got to deal with it and use that money not to just buy things but to really get to the root issues and really invest in that.
And so, again, the inflection point for me is not just post-George Floyd, but it's post-COVID an understanding that COVID highlighted so many inequities because it was black and brown and poor people who died of COVID. They're the ones that had to keep working and exposing themselves to COVID to do the things that the rest of us needed to keep our lives going. And so, with all of the spotlight on the equities, we've got an opportunity, again to get it right this time, by investing in education, by investing in healthcare, investing in job creation, investing in the environment in which people grow up and live.
Share with our listeners how you are thinking about community safety now and whether you see a different role for police in keeping our communities safe?
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about my favorite subject.
I think that police understand — and it was one of the consensuses we had from the conversation about the Future of Public Safety — is that police don't own public safety. Communities own public safety, all of us working together. And what we've got now is a system that's designed to respond to crises and because of funding choices along the way, police happen to be the last one standing to answer all the crisis intervention calls that come in, when they're not equipped to do it and shouldn't be doing it.
So, what my hope is that people now take a step back, way back, and start thinking about not just about crisis intervention but thinking about community investment first so that we don't have the need for the crisis intervention.
Number two, thinking about engaging the community in how you deal with the crises, and how do you deal with, again, preventing the crisis, and who is the best responder to those things. So, people understand on an intellectual level that when you have a crisis that somebody's having a mental health crisis, that a law enforcement officer who happens to have a gun is not the right person to come in to deal with it.
I think that the challenge again is asking the community what the needs are, and then designing a response around that, but designing a response that is not dependent on you having enough money to fund it in perpetuity, because you've got to look at these as long-term investments and they need to be professionalized and paid for just like you pay for police officers. If you've got credible messengers, that covers a spectrum of work, but they ought to be employees and well-funded the same way your police are with benefits and longevity and career opportunities like everyone else.
And so, I think that we know what works. There's plenty of research that shows what works. That's what you invest in every day at Annie Casey. Exactly. So we know that investing in our young people and investing in their success works. We know that investing in people who are caught up in our criminal justice system and equipping them to succeed works and keeps them out of the criminal justice system and it's worth the investment.
Again, the challenge is when tax revenues get tight, people start cutting things and the very things we shouldn't cut are the ones that get cut.
And it sounds like the most important thing that everyone agreed on was about prevention, which is what we increasingly try to do in so many spaces. The more that we can redirect dollars to prevention efforts and reduce crisis, then you don't have to invest as much in response. But as a country, we continually invest in a deep-end response to everything. There really is a huge cost to communities, to people when we don't invest upfront in order to address the challenges that they're having in their lives, and that ultimately is the best way, it seems, to address our community safety is if we create a healthy community where people have opportunity and can get the kinds of interventions they need, appropriate interventions, that they need that may not necessarily be police driven. So that seems like something we can all agree on if we can just shift our dollars in that direction.
Yeah, because I think that the analogy that everybody uses that it took a while for people to get as well, so that's why I'm hopeful that eventually we'll get there, is our healthcare model. The emergency room isn't the place where everybody get their healthcare. And we've started, now insurance companies and businesses pay people to get healthy walk and do all these things, sleep better, do all these things so that you don't have everybody in the emergency room. And that's the same analogy here. And I hope that we'll get there faster than we have on the healthcare side because we've got that understanding now.
So, what opportunities do you see for potential criminal justice reforms on the federal level from either Congress or the administration given this insight you have from this work that you've done on the future of public safety.
If I were doing what Jeremy Travis did to me when I was at AAG, I'd send a letter to the person running the Office of Justice Programs and I would say, "You have an opportunity." And I would say to Congress: "You have an opportunity, particularly with these federal investments."
And I prefer to incentivize people rather than penalize people, because we had a lot of federal grant dollars that were if you didn't do X, you're going to lose X percent. And at some point, people were just like, "Well, then I'll just lose my X percent."
And so if I were in charge, I would say, let's work across the administration, combining the dollars going through the Department of Justice, the dollars going through the Department of Education, the dollars going through HUD, the dollars going through the Department of Agriculture, all of them, and say, tell communities we want you to come up with a holistic plan for how you're going to deal with inequities, and incentivizing those who do it. We're going to give you some extra money, meaningful money, significant money to make it worth their while to do it.
And then also ask them to track the success and measure and evaluate and assess what they're doing, because the goal is we ought to be continuously learning from investments, be it investments by philanthropy like Annie Casey, investments by the federal government, and investments by state government. We ought to be assessing and testing and seeing is what we're doing working? Is it improving lives? And if it's not, pivot. It's okay for things not to work. The question is, what are you going to learn from it? So, for me, I'd love to see a federal government that incentivizes addressing systemic issues. I'd like to see a federal government that rethinks the whole purpose of our criminal justice system, because you can't arrest your way out of problems, and you can't jail your way out.
Those people who do come in contact with our system, is jail the right answer for everybody? No, absolutely not. Particularly in the juvenile frame, the former head of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention used to say that the contact ought to be fair, rare and beneficial. And I think that applies to adults as well as young people, that if we're not making people better when they come out, then we've made a mistake. You're doing something wrong.
And so often we find that the preventive interventions are much less expensive than the deep end interventions. We'll talk about juvenile justice in a minute because you know that's something Casey has a particular interest in, but the cost to lock up a young person can be more than $100,000 a year. That kind of investment in the young person's potential rather than on a young person who's gotten derailed could cost much less and have just such great benefit to their lives and to our community.
So that's the simple thing is that it can even cost less to invest upfront. I know you worked at the federal level, but states have a particular and a powerful role in public safety. Is there any advice you'd give to a new public safety or criminal justice leader at the state or local level?
Well, what I'd love to see is a system that requires people to engage with their communities in co-creating public safety and asking the community what it wants. I would love to see a system where, and I think that the Commissioner in New York has been doing this and meeting with the community and trying to figure out how to co-produce public safety. And there are many police chiefs across the country who are doing that. And so, I would encourage them to continue to do that, continue to build those relationships and continue to think about where the investments need to be made and partner and work in partnership across sectors.
I think that's the biggest challenge is getting people to operate outside of their silos, outside of their comfort zones. They ought to be working hand in glove with the school system, with public health, job creation, all those folks. So if I were a mayor or a county commissioner or a governor, I would be asking for where your plan's showing me that you all are collaborating and working together, because they work.
Yale Child Study Center, well, I know we're going to get to young people later, but there are models where we know that if you do work collaboratively and think about the whole family as you’re thinking about things, that there is success. And again, we’re not reinventing the wheel. The research is already out there. Again, the commitment is, are we going to do it even though it’s hard work and somebody else may get credit for it later.
As you know, the Casey Foundation has long worked to reform the nation's juvenile justice system, and we've recommended alternatives to detention and incarceration that have been implemented across the country. But as part of this work, we think it's been so strong because we've been joined by lots of amazing allies like parents and young people and community groups who work outside of systems to create change. Could you go a little further and talk about any recommendations you have on how to bring these outside voices into justice and law enforcement systems?
I think you need to have them at the table and create the space to have joint conversations around what should happen. I'm going to give a small example of something that was piloted in New York. And then when he went to DC, he took it to another level. And now thanks to support from Annie Casey, CM3 is taking it to an even larger level. So Clint Lacey who runs CM3, they have this credible messenger model that's not a violence interruption model. So you've got to be careful when you use the word because there are lots of layers and levels of credible messengers.
But his theory was when you work with young people who are coming out on probation and parole is they put wraparound services around that person. Well, when he got to DC, he said, "No, we need to give a credible messenger to the young person, and then a separate one to the family, so that the family has the support it needs to figure out how to navigate going forward." And one of the things he also did was that these credible messengers are at the table with the caseworkers thinking through what the strategy is for dealing with the young person and his family.
So that's a little real-world example of bringing the right voices to the conversation and having them in the room thinking about what's next, because you can think you know what's best and what's right and it not be what the community thinks it needs.
And, so, I learned when I was the assistant attorney general a tough lesson thankfully early in my tenure, two of them. One was I had this notion about children whose parents were incarcerated and what kind of parents those parents could be. I learned, when I listened to the young people, they needed their parents. Didn't make any difference what mistake parents may or may not have made. They need their parent.
And that was a huge aha moment for me that I realized that we've got to support maintaining those relationships because they're important no matter what choices the parent made or didn't make. And we know from the research, again, it's not new, that when you support the family and keep someone who's in our criminal justice system connected to their family, they are more successful when they come out.
And we have watched, one of the reasons why we push the Pell pilot program, which is now restored, is because we learn that when the strutter people who are incarcerated, and I use that word intentionally, there's certain words you notice I'm not using, but when people who are incarcerated have an opportunity to get a college education, it changes their life opportunities when they come out, it changes how their children see them, and it changes their involvement and interest in their own children's education. That's cycle breaking right there.
It is. Well, I'll make a plug for Casey did a report a couple of years ago called A Shared Sentence which talks about just this issue about the impact on children's lives when their parents are involved in the criminal justice system. Both the relationships and the economic impact to those families and the safety of communities once they're released are all intertwined. So, we share with you a real strong commitment to making sure those families can stay connected and thrive beyond those mistakes.
And I have to give a shout out to our program at John Jay, we call it a Prison-to-College Pipeline Program. We have many graduates of our program, college graduates and some PhDs, but it's a program at Otisville Correctional Facility in New York. They are our students. Those who are incarcerated there are our students just as much as our students who are based on the campus. And I remember early on in my tenure going to a program at Otisville and hearing the multi-generational impact. One gentleman who'd been released who got his degree, because she saw him get his, the daughter went back to college and he stayed on her to finish because he'd done it. And so those are really real-life examples of the generational impact. We've got graduates of our program who are in law school. They've probably graduated by now, PhDs. It's just wonderful to see.
That's good. Talent is everywhere.
The juvenile justice is just this really interesting space because there's so much science that's clear about adolescence and young adulthood and how there's this unique developmental window where we can help young people gain skills, build relationships, heal from trauma and get their lives back on track. But a punitive system just hinders those kinds of opportunities.
I just want to hear your thoughts on how the juvenile justice system, and then the adult justice system, which also has young people in this age group, they are developmentally of ten very the same even though they straddle different systems. How can our criminal justice systems help young people succeed?
I have very definite thoughts. I don't think incarceration is the answer at all. I don't think removing them from family and community is the answer at all. I think that we know that there's research that shows that it adds to the trauma. I think you've got to take each young person individually and understand how they got where they are. There's a story for each one. And we know that people age out of these issues. So there's real concrete brain science that shows that your brain is not fully developed till at least 25. You can be smart, but the last things to develop are impulse control and judgment.
I loved when we had some of these programs at the Department of Justice during the Obama administration. We had experts getting up there talking about this science and they'd say, you ask a young person, "Why did you do that?" And they go, "I don't know." Well, they're telling you the truth. They don't know. They really don't know why they did it, because their judgment is off. And so if we can recognize that and recognize that we just need to give them time to fully develop and mature into what we know they can be. And so the question is, how do you do that? How do you give them space?
That doesn't mean you don't hold people accountable. But I just refuse to accept that incarceration is the only method of holding somebody accountable. And that's the problem in the U.S. is we're so quick to send people to jail as if that's the only way to hold somebody accountable. It's not. There are times when it's appropriate, but there are times when it's not. And, so, the question is, how do you hold people accountable while putting them on a path to success?
And we know, again, Rand did this study ages ago, education, jobs, access to quality housing, connection to family, those are the things that keep people from returning to our system. So why aren't we providing those things on the front end so you don't even come in the system? But if you do come in the system, again, figure out what happened.
It reminded me of work we do around hospital violence prevention programs. That people who have been injured in community violence, they're in the hospital, here's a moment where you can intervene in their lives. The kinds of interventions that they pursue are exactly what you've talked about. Education, workforce, housing, how can we help stabilize your life so that you don't come back to this emergency room with a gunshot wound. And so I totally agree with you that there are many different kinds of interventions that can help people get their lives in a different-
And you take that intervention even further, because I funded some of that work when I was at DOJ as well, is we work with that person, and we also get names of all their family and contacts. So we can go talk to them and say, "No, you don't want to take this the next step. Let's figure out how we can support you." Because you want to break that cycle.
So I'm grateful for all of the work that Annie Casey does. You all do phenomenal work. And I learned a lot of what I know because of you all. One of my early programs I went to was an Annie Casey program when we were talking about young people and how do we define success. And one of your directors said, why in certain communities do we define success as not getting suspended, not getting this? Why don't we have the same measures we have for all of our children? And that totally shaped my thinking. We want the same expectations for everybody's children that we want for our own. And so let's measure how many are graduating from high school, how many are going to college, how many have jobs? Same measures of success ought to be measured in every community.
Thank you. Yeah, that is a fundamental value that we hold and know that there is amazing potential in all young people, and we just need to invest it and then foster it to help them realize that potential. So, thank you for being an amazing partner, both when you were in government and now in your current role. We've sort of covered the arc of your career from being in the Department of Justice and in the college setting.
So, I want to ask you a personal question. I've actually known you a long time. I remember when you were a lawyer in private practice, and I started as a lawyer in private practice. I think both of us have found incredible purpose in the changes that we've made to our career. So I just want to ask how you have found the transition from corporate attorney to government lawyer, to college president. There was a time I couldn't have imagined you leaving private practice. What has this journey taught you? How has it changed you?
Well, there was a time when I couldn't see myself here either. I will say that when I went to law school, I thought I was going to do public service. But I didn't want to be a litigator. And so I couldn't see a path forward in public service because this... We're talking 40 years ago. I think today people have lots of different options. So for me, when I left the law firm at 50+ years old, the only job I'd ever had, I tell people it was the hardest decision I ever made but the best decision that I've ever made because at this stage of my life to be able to feel like I am having some small role and making the world a better place, I have traded every dollar in the world for this experience.
I pay myself to do this job and it is worth every bit of using my retirement investment to do this job because it's important work. I value the years that I had at the firm because I think that they taught me a lot of what I'm using now. I did a lot of economic development work, a lot of financing of water sewer systems and hospitals and education. And the reason why that was all helpful is because I understand how communities work at a granular level. I understand tax, the tax base and how it gets allocated. I understand how communities make choices, governing people make choices to keep the community running. And I think that that equips me to be a better partner with them in thinking through these issues because it's hard for them too.
The choices we're asking them to make are hard, but I am so grateful because I consider these jobs to be a privilege to be able to have this platform to be able to have this conversation with you and to be able to talk about these things and hopefully make a long-term sustainable change in how people approach public safety. So thank you for this opportunity to talk to you and to your audience, and thank you for your long-term friendship, because I get as much from you as you get from me.
Well, it has just been a joy to see the transformation in your journey and to see how much joy you get from what you do now. You bring an incredible amount of skill and grace and compassion to what you do and it's just wonderful to see you lead John Jay. I know that your passion is infectious and that you are inspiring a whole new generation of young people in the path that you have led. So thank you for everything that you do, and thank you for joining us on CaseyCast and for using your voice in such a powerful way.
Thank you for using yours because I am so enjoying watching you lead us as well. And I am optimistic because people like you are leading now and with the platform you have from Annie Casey, you are already making a big difference. So thank you.
Thank you, Karol.
And to our listeners, thank you for joining us today. You can ask questions and leave us feedback on Twitter by using the CaseyCast hashtag. Also, feel free to follow me @LHamilton_aecf. To learn more about Casey and the work of our guests, you can find our show notes at aecf.org/podcast. Until next time, I wish all of America's kids and all of you a bright future.