Jason Flom, recipient of the After Now Service Award, addresses the audience at the first graduation ceremony of the New York University Prison Education Program at Wallkill Correctional Facility, October 12, 2017. (Credit: Kate Lord / New York University)
American music industry executive Jason Flom is the CEO of Lava Records and Lava Music Publishing. Flom previously served as Chairman and CEO at Atlantic Records, Virgin Records and Capitol Music Group and is personally responsible for launching acts such as Kid Rock, Katy Perry, and Lorde. The New Yorker described him as “one of the most successful record men of the past 20 years…known for his specialty in delivering ‘monsters.’”
Flom began his career at Atlantic Records as a Trainee Field Merchandiser when he was 18 years old. He rose through the ranks and was named Chairman and CEO in 2003. Artists who he discovered and developed during his time there included Kid Rock, Matchbox 20, The Corrs, Hayley Williams, Skid Row, Tori Amos, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Jewel, and Stone Temple Pilots. Flom became Chairman and CEO of Virgin Records in 2006 where he discovered and signed Katy Perry. In 2008, he was appointed Chairman and CEO of Capitol Music Group, where he oversaw the careers of such artists as Coldplay, Lenny Kravitz, and 30 Seconds to Mars.
In 1995, he founded Lava Records as a joint venture with Atlantic Records, which turned out to be one of the most successful startups in music business history. In 2009, Flom reclaimed the Lava imprint and entered into a partnership with UMG’s Republic Records for new signings. The label is now home to multi-platinum, award-winning superstars Jessie J, Lorde and Trans-Siberian Orchestra, as well as emerging stars including Greta Van Fleet, Maty Noyes and Stanaj. In 2015, Flom created Lava Music Publishing and formed a deal with Kobalt Music Publishing to provide worldwide publishing services.
Jason Flom is a leading philanthropist who has long championed various political and social causes. He has demonstrated his commitment to social justice as a founding board member of the Innocence Project and a board member of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, The Legal Action Center, The Drug Policy Alliance, The Anti-Recidivism Coalition, NYU Prison Education Program, Proclaim Justice and VetPaw. Jason Flom is known as a leading civilian expert on clemency and is personally responsible for dozens of clemencies including 17 that were granted by President Clinton, all of whom were nonviolent drug offenders serving between 15 and 85-year mandatory sentences.
Flom is the host of the podcast Wrongful Conviction, now in its fourth season, which features interviews with men and women who have spent decades in prison for crimes they did not commit. With the support of defense lawyers and representatives from various advocacy groups, he recounts insane stories behind these wrongful conviction cases, as a way to expose the broader issues. His goal is to promote alternatives to mass incarceration and offer his ideas on how to reduce the indecencies of wrongful convictions. Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom is available on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Google Play, and Spotify.
Flom is also a sought-after public speaker and has spoken at conferences, corporate events and venues such as Tony Robbins’ Power of Success, Chicago Ideas Week, The Nantucket Project, Usher’s Disruptive Innovation Summit, Collision/F.ouders Conference, the Tom Tom Festival, and the Beacon Theatre, as well as numerous Ivy League universities and law schools.
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Bob Lefsetz speaks with the CEO of Lava Records, Jason Flom, about his rise through the music industry, his early work with AC/DC and Twisted Sister, and more recently, discovering acts like Katy Perry and Lorde. He also shares his passion for criminal justice, telling stories of corruption and injustice which are highlighted in his own podcast, Wrongful Conviction.
On November 12, 1992, Antoine Day was starting a career in music when he was convicted for a crime he didn’t commit and was sentenced to 60 years in prison. After spending nearly a decade in the notoriously violent Pontiac Correctional Center in Chicago, his conviction was finally overturned. But his nightmare was still not over.
Instead of going home, he was sent to the county jail for another two years, where he was forced to share a cell with a man who had been convicted for killing Day’s son just months before. Instead he chose his only way out: solitary confinement.
Then once he was finally released, he was given no means to notify his family and was forced to stand on a street corner in the rain — without cash or a cell phone — until an old friend happened to drive by and take him home.
This is just one of the many extraordinary and enraging stories told in Wrongful Conviction, a podcast series that features interviews with men and women who have spent decades in prison for crimes they did not commit.
With the rising awareness of America’s acute issue with racially prejudiced mass incarceration that sees black Americans incarcerated at an average rate of 5.1 times that of white Americans in state prisons, this podcast helps to expose a lesser known corruption in the system.
Every episode is hosted by Wrongful Conviction’s founder, Jason Flom, a music mogul and longtime supporter of multiple projects to fix America’s justice system. Global Citizen had the chance to sit down with Flom to discuss the podcast, prisons and how on earth so many innocent people end up in jail, in the land of the free.
At first blush, a music executive crowned “one of the most successful record men of the past 20 years” by the New Yorker, who discovered Katy Perry, Lorde, Kid Rock and MatchBox 20 among countless other stars, might not be expected to find such a genuine connection with people who have spent decades in prison.
But Flom’s empathetic nature — as he terms his inner “‘social worker”’ — helps to coax harrowing yet inspiring stories out of all the exonerees he interviews, from Amanda Knox to Raymond Santana (of the famous Central Park 5 ). These raw and uncensored interchanges are a captivating listen, and have ensured the Wrongful Conviction series hit No. 7 in the iTunes podcast chart.
Jason Flom with Amanda Knox
Flom has been heavily involved in this work for over 25 years. Looking to “help people who were helpless,” in the early ’90s Flom stumbled upon an article about a man who had been denied parole and was serving 15-to-life for a nonviolent first offense in New York state. After calling the man’s mother, asking what he could do to help, and discovering they had exhausted all their appeals, Flom contacted a defense lawyer who represented two of his artists — Stone Temple Pilots and Skid Row — whenever they were in hot water. While poring over the transcripts of the case the lawyer found a loophole to exploit and they ultimately won the case. From there, Flom was hooked.
Now 56, Flom is a founding board member of the renowned Innocence Project — the co-founder of which, Barry Scheck, said of Flom “He’s the bomb, Innocence Project couldn’t do without him.” Flom also serves on multiple boards of organizations working on the frontlines of justice reform including Families Against Mandatory Minimums, and the NYU Prison Education Program. He is also an expert on commutations having worked directly with Bill Clinton to grant clemency to 17 prisoners, and is personally responsible for dozens of others — and as announced on his instagram just last week, he recently helped secure two more.
One of the most striking themes in the podcast is the recurring issue of false confessions, that Flom says provide “the most powerful tool of all” in persuading a jury or judge of a defendant’s guilt. Indeed, according to the Innocence Project — a group dedicated to freeing the wrongly imprisoned through DNA testing, nearly a third of the 337 people who’ve had their convictions overturned had confessed falsely. Which begs the question, why are so many people confessing to crimes they didn’t do?
It’s thought that many of these false confessions are the result of a flawed interrogation process called the Reid Technique.
“They’ve effectively replaced physical torture with psychological torture.”
Ironically the method emerged as a more humane alternative to previous methods, which could be best summed up as “torture.” And now, as Flom puts it, “They’ve effectively replaced physical torture with psychological torture.”
This nine-step process, according to Flom, is designed to intimidate people and make them think that unless they confess they will never be get out of the interrogation room — a point that is the focus of the podcast and in the Netflix series, “The Confession Tapes.”
Flom related the story of exoneree Johnny Hincapie — who was released in 2015 after 25 years in prison for a murder he did not commit — to capture the pressure that many false confessions are extracted under.
Johnny was 18 when he was taken to the police station. He had never been in trouble with the law before, was an “artistic, gentle kid,” and the cops “beat him up, pulled his hair out of his head and said “I am going to kill you and dump your body in the alley and nobody going to give a f***.” To which Johnny says, “People ask why would I confess? And I say, why wouldn’t I confess?”
Painstakingly illustrated in countless episodes of Wrongful Conviction is the heightened vulnerability of people who are actually innocent to these aggressive tactics.
Like exoneree Vanessa Gathers, whose story is chronicled in Season 4, and who like many others waives her Miranda rights and does not request a lawyer for many hours of interrogation, because she didn’t believe she was a suspect. And as Flom puts it, even if you realize you’re a suspect a lot of people go into it thinking, “Well I’ll just tell the truth and then I can go home — because I have an alibi!” And even once convicted, many of the exonerees on the series express the belief that the truth will come out, that someone in authority will emerge to quickly right the wrong, only to spend decades in prison.
Confidence in this interrogative approach is falling. One of the largest consulting groups that works with the majority of US police departments announced last year that it will stop training officers in the Reid technique.
New methods that are less confrontational are cropping up across the globe in the UK and Canada. The new format that has been picked up in the States, and specifically by the LAPD is geared “not toward the extraction of a confession but toward the pursuit of information.”
Many other systemic flaws that go beyond police interrogation tactics enable convictions of innocent people. For example, prosecutors and judges rarely face consequences for misconduct. What’s more, a prosecutor who knowingly submits false evidence in a case that results in the wrongful conviction — and that includes the execution — of an innocent person under the law, cannot be personally sued for damages.
“The two questions I get asked most often are: does the exoneree get compensation? And does anything happen to the prosecutor if they willfully broke the rules? And, the answer to the first one is sometimes, and the answer to the second one is almost never,” Flom told Global Citizen.
Some hold the view that there are valid reasons for the existence of prosecutorial immunity — critically that if prosecutors can be vulnerable to lawsuits for their work, they may shy away from filing charges except in clear cut cases.
Yet you compound prosecutorial immunity with the reality that professional incentives for prosecutors are largely driven by quantity of convictions, and you get a system that not only does not punish prosecutors for malpractice but frequently promotes them for it. This was arguably the case in the tragic story of Noura Jackson, who Flom has “all but legally adopted,” and holds a particularly moving interview with on the podcast.
Jason Flom and Noura Jackson
When Noura was just 18 years old, her mother, Jennifer Jackson, was stabbed 50 times, leaving Noura an orphan (her father had been killed just 16 months before) with no siblings. Despite there being no physical evidence connecting Noura to the murder, no trace of her blood or DNA was found at the crime scene and there was biological evidence of other people having being there (including a clump of blond hair in Jennifer Jackson’s hand — Noura is brunette), Jackson was convicted of killing her mother.
Critically, prosecutors Amy Weirich and Stephen Jones withheld esculpatory evidence from both the judge and the defense before the trial. The Tennessee Supreme Court called this behavior “gross misconduct” and a “flagrant violation” of Noura’s constitutional rights, when presenting their unanimous ruling to overturn her conviction in August of 2014.
Yet Noura’s already nine year imprisonment did not end here. It took two more years for Noura to get out of prison. And due to the Memphis prosecutors refusing to vacate the original indictment, Noura was still forced to plead guilty to manslaughter, which meant relinquishing the chance to ever find who killed her mother.
Even in this instance, the prosecutors were protected from punishment. After a two-day hearing, Stephen Jones was found not guilty of prosecutorial misconduct. After the verdict on Jones, the Tennessee board of Professional Responsibility agreed to dismiss the case against Wierich in exchange for a “private reprimand.”
Besides battling wrongful convictions and mandatory minimums, Flom is also waging war against the US bail system, which routinely penalizes the poorest people in society. He helped establish the Bronx Freedom Fund (which is now going national) and financed the recently enacted New Jersey bail reform which has virtually eliminated cash bail in the State.
At any one time in America, there are nearly 500,000 people languishing in jails — waiting for days, weeks, months, and even years to go to trial. “They are simply there for being poor,” Flom told Global Citizen.
“A system in which Sandra Bland goes to jail and Robert Durst goes home is a broken system.”
Two thirds of people in jail were already below the poverty line before their incarceration, and had little access to quality education, according to a report compiled by the US Justice Department. More than 50% of Americans are unable to gather $400 in an emergency, and the average bail amount sits at around $10,000.
Unaffordable cash bail is one of the largest drivers of mass incarceration in the US — over the last 15 years, increases in pretrial detention accounted for 99% of all jail growth. Growth which is undoubtedly behind why the United States is one of only two countries in the entire globe that has a for profit bail industry.
“A system in which Sandra Bland goes to jail and Robert Durst goes home is a broken system,” Flom said.
When someone is detained and cannot afford to pay their bail, they have two choices: plead guilty to the crime or sit in jail until the backlogged courts can bring them to trial, which in many cases can take years. That’s time when they could lose their jobs and homes, perpetuating the cycle of poverty. That’s why 90% of people plead guilty so they can go home, even if they did not commit the crime.
And as Flom expresses it, this desire to go home, even if it means with a criminal record for something they didn’t do, is entirely understandable when you hear some of the exonerees’ stories about pretrial jail on Wrongful Conviction.
Ryan Ferguson, who was wrongfully convicted of second-degree murder and robbery and sentenced to 40 years in prison, talks about the “intense claustrophobia” he felt while awaiting trial — saying in his first year in pretrial detention he was only allowed outside twice.
There were no windows in the cell he shared with eight other men, who in the eyes of the law at that point are supposed to be “innocent until proven guilty.” Another interviewee who Jason Flom has developed a close relationship with is Mark Denny, who served 30 years in prison for something he didn’t do. Denny said that after spending three days in the infamous New York City jail, Rikers, he would rather do another 30 years in prison than three days in Rikers.
Jails are supposed to be temporary and thus have fewer resources devoted to them than prisons, according to a report from the Open Society Foundation. And the story is much the same across the globe. Worldwide data from the World Health Organization reveals that suicide rates among people stuck in pretrial jails are three times higher than among sentenced prisoners.
In fact the global prison crisis is next on Flom’s list as he is soon off to give a TedX talk in Luzira prison in Uganda. In Africa some facilities are so overcrowded people are forced to “lie in the same direction and then turn over at the same time, and some have to stand up while others are sitting down,” Flom rails.
Keith Allen Harwood, who tells Jason Flom on the podcast how he was wrongfully convicted of a 1982 rape and murder and served 33 years in prison
After so much exposure to such brutality you’d think that Flom might have a dismal view of humanity. Yet, he says, there is good reason for hope. Awareness of the brokenness of the system is at an all time high Flom notes thanks to series like “Making a Murderer” hitting mainstream culture and the 2015 “bombshell FBI report” in which microscopic hair analysis exposed how FBI expert’s testimony contained erroneous statements in at least 90 percent of hundreds of trial transcripts — trials in which every single one of them ruled in favor of the prosecution.
Although Flom’s hope also seems to stem from the many people he has spoken to while recording the podcast, who never lost theirs — even though they were betrayed by a system allegedly there to protect them, kept from their families for decades and exposed to untold brutality while incarcerated.
Flom says the unrelenting “positivity” and “grace” that every single interviewee possesses is “other worldly.” To capture quite what he means he quotes Sunny Jacobs (yet another exoneree who has become a major part of Flom’s life) who spent 15 years on death row before being proven innocent, “I just want everyone to know that hope is better than hopelessness and love is better than revenge.”
So go on, download it now. One listen and and you’ll become an advocate, and as Flom says, even more importantly, you’ll also likely be a juror at some point, so make yourself a woke one. Plus for every download of the podcast, Jason donates a dollar to helping free wrongfully convicted people from prison — now that sounds like justice.
Music industry exec and activist Jason Flom talks about the couplet that got him fired from Atlantic, signing monster acts like Twisted Sister, Kid Rock and Lourde (to name a few) and everything you need to know if you ever come up against the United States justice system.
Power of Success with Tony Robbins and Friends Calgary 2017
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
1410 Olympic Way SE , Calgary, AB T2G 2W1
ONE DAY MEGA EVENT designed to educate, inspire and empower people. On December 20, 2017 from 7 AM to 6 PM, The Power of Success event will take place at BMO Centre at Stampede Park in Calgary. This full day personal and professional development conference will feature leading experts and authors including: Tony Robbins on Leadership Psychology, Jason Flom on Leadership and Social Activism, Niurka on Supreme Influence & Advanced Communication, JJ Virgin on Transformational Health, Phil Town on Strategies for Financial Success and more.
As one of the most successful music executives in the world, Jason Flom has spent his career launching multi-platinum musical acts. However, helping to turn unknown performers into superstars wasn’t enough for Jason. Now he focuses on giving a voice to an oft-forgotten group: men and women who have been wrongfully incarcerated for crimes they did not commit.
It’s no surprise that Jason parlayed his ability to get people, their stories and voices heard into his love and commitment to the criminal justice reform movement, a movement he has relentlessly championed since 1993. It all started when he read a story about a man named Steven Lennon who had been sentenced to a mandatory 15 years-to-life for a non-violent, first offense drug possession charge. Ever since, Jason has described himself as an “obsessive advocate” for non-violent first offenders and also the wrongfully convicted. This obsession led Jason to becoming a founding board member of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization with a simple goal—to exonerate wrongfully convicted people and find solutions to reform the current justice system and to avoid future injustices.
He is also the executive producer and host of the chart-topping podcast, Wrongful Conviction. In each episode, he interviews an exoneree about his or her story. With the support of defense lawyers and representatives from various advocacy groups, he recounts the preposterous stories behind these cases, as a way to expose the broader issues. His goal is to promote alternatives to mass incarceration and offer his ideas on how to reduce the indecencies of wrongful convictions. Flom believes that together we can end mass incarceration while improving public safety.
From left: Josh Kiszka, Jake Kiszka, Sam Kiszka and Wagner of Greta Van Fleet photographed on Nov. 2, 2017 at Le Parc Suite Hotel in West Hollywood.
They’re pushing to make 2018 “the age of rock’n’roll”
Lava Records CEO Jason Flom signed the band on the spot in March. It has since charted two tracks on Mainstream Rock, collecting five weeks at No. 1 with “Highway Tune”; “Safari Song” is heading for the top 20. With rock songs by Portugal. The Man and Imagine Dragons in the top 10 of the BillboardHot 100, Sam states: “We’re living in the resurgence of rock.”
Click the image to watch Jason Flom speak at The Nantucket Project with Raymond Santana in 2016.
By Neil Shah
Greta Van Fleet’s rise to stardom started when tour manager Mike Barbee discovered them at a cookout in Frankenmuth in September 2012. He courted the Kiszka boys’ parents for months. As his charges gained local notoriety, he reluctantly agreed to hand them to a more experienced manager— Aaron Frank, whose family runs a major U.S. concert promotion company—a move that led to WME’s Mr. Geiger and eventually, Mr. Flom.
For Mr. Flom, who signed ‘80s rock bands like Zebra, Twisted Sister and Skid Row, Greta Van Fleet represents a return to his rock roots. Mr. Flom took Greta Van Fleet’s song “Highway Tune” to David Dorn, senior director of Apple Music, who helped it onto the streaming services’ playlists, where the song immediately gained traction. In April, Apple Music named Greta Van Fleet a “new artist of the week.”
“I’ve known Jason for a long time. He’s someone with a proven record,” Mr. Dorn says.
Jason Flom, CEO of Lava Records, advisory board member of NYU PEP and recipient of the After Now Service Award, addresses the audience at the first graduation ceremony of the New York University Prison Education Program (NYU PEP) at Wallkill Correctional Facility, October 12, 2017. NYU PEP is a college program that offers credit-bearing courses and educational programming leading to an Associate of Arts Degree from New York University in Liberal Studies to men incarcerated at Wallkill Correctional Facility, located in Ulster County, New York. (Credit: Kate Lord / New York University)
On October 13th, 2017, NYU’s Prison Education Program awarded associate’s degrees in Liberal Studies to the first graduates of the Program: Ryan Burrell, Roy Burvick, Danis Flores, Khalan Pendelton, and Vincent Thompson. NYU President Andrew Hamilton was on hand at the Wallkill Correctional Facility to hand out the diplomas and to offer congratulations. Gallatin Dean Susanne L. Wofford and PEP Faculty Director Nikhil Singh also spoke at the event and celebrated the inaugural class.
The NYU Prison Education Program awarded Jason Flom with a NYU PEP service award to recognize his significant contribution to the field of re-entry for prisoners.
Usher’s Disruptive Innovation Summit gathered over 200 students in Atlanta, GA from July 20-21st, 2017. The panel was moderated by lawyer, TV and radio personality, Mo Ivory and featured Jason Flom, Usher, Sean Pica, who founded Hudson Link after being in prison for 16 years, an org that provides higher education, life skills and re-entry support to prisoners, Ciara Taylor, a Political Educator for organizations like Dream Defenders and the Popular Education Group. Their dialogue had everyone talking and even some students in tears who could relate first hand to having family members incarcerated for nonviolent offenses.
This music mogul who helped launch Katy Perry’s career works to free wrongfully convicted felons
Jul 5, 2017, 6:18 PM ET
Music mogul Jason Flom has jam sessions with Wyclef Jean, hangs out with Jay-Z and is responsible for launching the careers of Katy Perry and other hitmakers. But he has another existence away from the glamour of Hollywood, working to free people convicted of crimes they did not commit.
“I’m fascinated by their stories and I’m fascinated by their courage and their strength and their spirit and their lack of bitterness, which always blows me away,” Flom said.
Flom, who is the CEO of Lava Records, is a founding board member of The Innocence Project, a non-profit organization that uses DNA evidence to exonerate the wrongfully convicted. To date, the group has helped free almost 200 people.
“We have two separate systems of justice in this country: One if you have money and one if you don’t, and that is a fundamental inequity that has to be addressed,” Flom said.
Many Innocence Project clients have been guests on Flom’s passion project: A podcast called “Wrongful Conviction.”
“The main goal for me of the podcast is to open the minds of the audience, every one of whom is a potential juror,” Flom said.
One of his most recent guests was Antoine Day, who was convicted of a killing that happened in Chicago while he was in New Orleans.
Day was sentenced to concurrent prison terms of 60 years for murder and 25 years for attempted murder. He served 10 years before getting a new trial, during which the charges were dropped.
“I appreciate you having this platform,” Day told Flom while he recorded his podcast. “You don’t probably understand how important it is, but for a guy like myself to be able to let this out, this is so important.”
Flom will even conduct interviews from inside prisons. He went to Sing Sing Correctional Facility, the notoriously dangerous maximum security prison in Ossining, New York, to interview convicted murderer Jon Adrian “JJ” Velazquez, who is an Innocence Project client.
Velazquez is serving 25 years to life for the murder of a retired cop, but Flom believes Velazquez when he says he’s innocent. “Tragically he was picked out of a book,” Flom said. “He had some minor brush with the law when he was a kid and they built a case against him, which when you look at the facts makes absolutely no sense. None of it adds up.”
Flom’s podcast is now in its third season. His interest in criminal justice crusading started in the ‘90s when he read a newspaper article about a young man sentenced to life in prison for a non-violent, first offense drug crime.
“He wasn’t innocent,” he said. “But I just thought that the sentence was so wildly disproportionate to what he had done.”
So Flom said he called an attorney friend who agreed to take on the case pro-bono. With the attorney’s help, the man was eventually released from prison.
“It was the best feeling in the world,” he said. “And then the lights went off in my brain, and I said, ‘This is my purpose in life.'”
He then set his sights on fixing multiple injustices he saw in the criminal justice system.
“There’s a half a million people in jail in America and we don’t even know if they did anything,” he said. “They haven’t been convicted of anything, but they can’t post bail…typically these bails can be anywhere from $500 to $1,500 and, of course, Kalief Browder really brought it to light.”
Browder was arrested at age 16 after being accused of stealing a backpack. He spent more than three years at the New York City jail Rikers Island, including nearly 800 days in solitary confinement. He was never tried, but was held because he couldn’t make the $3,000 bail.
He turned down a plea bargain that would have granted his release in exchange for pleading guilty on principle.
“The judge told me that if I plead guilty I’d be released from jail that same day,” Browder told “Nightline” in an October 2014 interview. “But I didn’t do it. You’re not going to make me say I did something just so I could go home.”
Browder was never convicted. Two years after he was released, Browder hung himself with an air conditional cord in his home in the Bronx. He was 22.
“Some of the most violent, dangerous institutions in the country are actually jails like Rikers Island,” Flom said. “So what winds up happening is that people will plead guilty to things they didn’t do. It goes back to that, right, just to get out of jail because they can’t be there.”
Because of stories like Browder’s, Flom helped create the Bronx Freedom Fund, a charitable bail fund for New Yorkers charged with low-level offenses.
“Ninty-seven percent of our clients have shown up for every court date, which totally destroys the myth that they would like us to believe, which is that we need cash bail in order to compel people to show up for their court dates. No, we don’t,” Flom said. “Nobody skipped bail.”
Flom comes from a family involved with the justice system. His father Joseph Flom was a prominent mergers and acquisitions attorney, who Jason Flom says some people have called “the greatest lawyer of the 20th century.”
“He was a great inspiration to me,” Jason Flom said. “He said, ‘Do whatever you want to do. Try to be the best at it, but just make the world a better place.'”
He said he wanted to be a rock star, but his mother told him he needed to get a real job. So he started at the bottom of the music industry ladder with hanging up posters in record stores.
“Then I determined I needed to find a band,” he said. “[I thought] ‘Well, how was I going to find a band?’ I had a staple gun and double-sided tape. Not the tools of the trade, right?”
He didn’t have an office, just a phone and desk, but Flom said he soon got his big break.
“I was able to find a band and convince my boss to sign them,” he said. “We put the record out. And it exploded.”
Flom went on to sign a number of now well-established rock bands at Atlantic Records and then later Virgin Records, including Twisted Sister, Skid Row, Stone Temple Pilots, Collective Soul and Kid Rock.
“Once in a while you get that tingly feeling, right?” Flom said. “You have to act on that instinct.”
That instinct also kicked in when he heard the song “Royals” by a then unknown New Zealand teenager named Lorde. Before that, he almost missed out on Katy Perry. She was struggling to catch her big break when Flom agreed to have a meeting with her.
“She walked in, and immediately I thought, ‘This girl’s a star,” Flom said. “I hadn’t heard a note of music yet but just the way she carried herself, right and her story… I was smitten.”
But then Flom said he played one of Perry’s songs for his senior staff, “and most of them were like, ‘This is horrible,'” he said.
“I was like, ’Maybe I’m wrong,’” he continued. “And I was listening to Katy on my headphones and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m an idiot. I think I totally screwed this up. She’s brilliant.'”
Flom said he’ll keep lifting up the next great voice, whether it’s a rock star or a prisoner.
“I feel a very heavy sense of responsibility to do as much as I can for as long as I can,” he said. “And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
“We cannot let this be the new norm.”
Calling for a “new age of activism,” Lava Records CEO Jason Flom joined with friend Wyclef Jean on Wednesday (May 3) at the Collision Conference in New Orleans to discuss wrongful conviction and how to change a criminal justice system he called “a disaster.”
Flom, who is on the board of directors of the Innocence Project and hosts the podcast Wrongful Conviction, noted how attitudes have changed drastically since he started working on criminal justice reform in the ’90s. Skeptics once called him “Don Quixote, jousting at that shit,” he said, but now more colleagues realize “it’s our national disgrace.”
He encouraged Jean to share the story of his own recent arrest, when in late March he was handcuffed by the LAPD in what turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. Jean related how he’d recently taught his 12-year old daughter how to behave if she should ever encounter police, but that after his arrest she asked, “You did everything you taught me to do and he still put you in handcuffs; what do I do?” He told her: “Exactly the same thing I told you to do.”
Tagline decamps to SXSW in Austin, Texas to capture a free-wheeling, music-filled episode with artist, activist and founding member of the Fugees, Wyclef Jean, outspoken Lava Records CEO and podcaster Jason Flom and Gap CMO Craig Brommers – all hosted by Adam Shlachter, President, Global Innovation, Publicis Media. The guests share frank tales of taking risks, winning (and losing) partnerships and the importance of leading with knowledge and intention, but allowing enough room for luck and serendipity too. Come for the insight, stay for the epic dialogue, delicious Bulleit cocktails and ‘Clef’s spontaneous performances.
The widespread popularity of the podcast Serial and the Netflix series Making A Murderer has elevated a new genre of crime stories: not true crime, but true innocence — considering the very real problems of wrongful convictions. Bob talks to Jason Flom, the host of the podcast Wrongful Conviction, about some of the cases he has come across of people being convicted using inaccurate or incomplete evidence.
How many innocent people will end up serving time in prison because of President Trump’s policies? Of course, even one is too many, but if recent developments are any guide, it could be a lot more than that.
Recently, researchers at the National Registry of Exonerations announced that 2016 set a record for exonerations in a single year: 166. Of that total, 74 pleaded guilty to crimes they did not commit. Most of those exonerated after pleading guilty had been charged with drug crimes, even though lab reports later revealed that no illegal drugs had been involved.
Barry Demings is one such person. In 2008, Houston police pulled Demings over on his way to work. They found a little white powder on the floorboard of his Ford Explorer. Demings hadn’t noticed it but thought it might be soap; he had just detailed his SUV. The officer who pulled him over thought it was something else. He dropped the powder into a small test kit and told Demings that it tested positive for cocaine.
Demings couldn’t believe it. He insisted he was innocent. But because of our insane drug laws and his prior convictions, the 55-year-old African American was told he could face a sentence as long as 30 years in prison. Justifiably scared, he accepted a deal. He pleaded guilty and served six months in jail, losing his job and girlfriend. (Seven years later, the defense and prosecution jointly filed to have the conviction overturned and Demings was exonerated.)
“How many innocent people will end up serving time in prison because of President Trump’s policies?”
My work with these organizations has shown me how harsh sentencing policies contribute to the problem of false confessions. Over the years, the balance in power between individual defendants and prosecutors has shifted to such a degree that those accused of crime – even those who are innocent – can feel like they don’t have a chance to prevail in court. Many of those who want to fight do not even have the resources to afford bail so they languish in prison, often in dangerous conditions away from their families.
Former federal judge Jed Rakoff and other experts attribute this growing disparity in power to the rise in harsh sentencing policies, including mandatory minimums, which give prosecutors the power to craft the sentence a defendant will serve based on how the prosecutor defines the crime. Even casual observers of human nature will not be surprised that more and more defendants — even innocent ones like Demings — are willing to “cut a deal” with prosecutors to avoid the risk of serving much longer prison sentences (or receiving the death penalty in some cases).
“What might surprise and disturb most Americans is how widespread this problem has become.”
What might surprise and disturb most Americans is how widespread this problem has become. According to Judge Rakoff’s opinion piece in the New York Review of Books, “the few criminologists who have thus far investigated the phenomenon estimate that the overall rate for convicted felons as a whole is between 2 percent and 8 percent.” That range suggests that, based on a total incarcerated population of 2.2 million, anywhere between 40,000 and 160,000 Americans are in prison for crimes to which they pleaded guilty but did not actually commit. Let that sink in for a moment.
President Trump is likely to make this problem worse. He appears to be laying the groundwork to pass new federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws, to increase federal prosecutions of state and local crimes and to generally increase federal authority over street crime. Indeed, after swearing in Jeff Sessions as attorney general, Trump signed three executive orders that were consistent with his firm but demonstrably false view that crime is out of control.
If even stricter federal sentencing policies are enacted, not only will more low-level offenders receive excessive prison terms, we should expect more Americans who committed no crime at all to go to prison, like Barry Demings. Those of us who have been fighting for criminal justice reform for decades, and who are disturbed by the need for exonerations in the first place, should be clear-eyed about the threat posed by Trump’s rhetoric and policies. Every American should be.
For Jason Flom, the process of proving an incarcerated person’s innocence is an around the clock task. Before the beginning of this interview, the Lava Records CEO took a call from a prisoner named Jon-Adrian “JJ” Velazquez, who was sentenced to 25 years in Sing-Sing Prison for murder. According to a 2014 NBC report, Velazquez – who has been detained since 1998 –pleaded with the courts to grant him another trial where he’ll present evidence that could solidify his innocence.
His story and a number of others who’re fighting to prove their guiltlessness are highlighted on Flom’s weekly podcast titled Wrongful Conviction. Through phone or in person interviews, Flom shines a light on a handful of prisoners’ stories of how being framed by law enforcement or being in the wrong place at the wrong time altered the course of their lives, and how they plan to make up for stolen time once they’re released.
Most of these cases are also intertwined with the quarter of a century old organization, Innocence Project. Through DNA evidence, the entity seeks to free those who’ve been the subject of false convictions and help them adapt to the demands of society after enduring lengthy sentences. “Exonerating somebody is a herculean task, even though it’s just one person,” Flom said. “But we try to use exonerations to drive changes in policy.”
Below, Flom discusses the detrimental cycle of populating private prisons, and how we can hold the criminal justice system accountable for wrongful convictions.
What factors play into a wrongful conviction? Jason Flom: There are a lot of different causes of wrongful convictions, some of the most common ones are false confessions, which are shockingly common and overwhelmingly powerful when a jury hears your confession. They don’t care about anything else. There are cases where DNA proves the person didn’t do it. Police and prosecutorial misconduct, and Brady violations are very common where we find that prosecutors withhold exculpatory evidence, which is everybody that watches TV knows you can’t do that, but they do it. Then there’s eyewitness misidentification which is the most common cause of wrongful convictions because there are so many problems with eyewitness identification including the fact that when you witness a crime your judgment gets so screwy because your adrenaline gets so elevated. You end up wanting to help solve the crime, but there’s all these pressures. Then there are things that relate to eyewitness identification like what we call double blind. That means the police officer conducting the interrogation must not know who the suspect is so they can’t lead you in a certain direction whether consciously or subconsciously.
The way mug shots are viewed is important and another cause of wrongful convictions because people should only see one mug shot at a time. When you see multiple ones on a page it messes up your perception or your memory. And then forensics. We’ve shown that there’s been so many examples of so-called experts testifying as to forensic evidence, and either lying or being wrong. There’s the fact that most people who are arrested and brought to trial are represented by public defenders. There are a lot of very good public defenders, but every one of them are overworked, underpaid and understaffed. If anybody hasn’t seen that movie Gideon’s Army, I recommend it. It really gives you an idea of how bad that problem really is. You really don’t have much of a chance once the system gets you. If you’re poor, you have a real problem.
How do you receive these cases? We have an in-take department and we receive approximately 200 letters a month from people who need our help whether it’s an inmate or a family member, typically of an inmate. We have people who are trained to review those letters and try to determine if the claims of innocence have some veracity. Then we have to find out whether there’s DNA, if we decide to move forward to determine whether there’s DNA in the case, because the Innocence Project works on DNA. It’s a whole process and as you can imagine it’s something that we take extremely seriously.
There are four tent-poles that the Innocence Project aims to tackle: Exonerate, Improve, Reform, Support. Which one takes the most legwork to accomplish?
Exonerating somebody is a herculean task, even though it’s just one person, but we try to use exonerations to drive changes in policy. If we have somebody convicted, for instance, on bite mark evidence, which recently we’ve proven is complete nonsense. There’s no such thing as bite mark evidence. There’s nobody alive that can tell if you bit somebody, they can’t tell whether it was you or anybody else. It’s impossible. It’s this whole field of forensic odontology. It’s a joke as it relates to these cases. The reason that forensic odontology even exists is because in cases of disasters like an earthquake or the collapse of a building where somebody is completely unrecognizable, they take your whole set of teeth and then they compare it to your dental records. But when you bite somebody or something, they only use a couple of teeth and you’re biting on an imperfect surface, and leaving an odd mark. There’s no way to compare that. It doesn’t work. We’ve taken cases with bite marks, and after exonerating somebody who’s served decades in prison, we will then go to lawmakers and try to have the laws changed so that it’s no longer a type of evidence that’s admissible in court. None of these things are easy, I don’t know which one is the hardest. Reforms are probably the hardest because you have to convince a lot of people, whether on the state or federal level.
Do you think this high rate of wrongful convictions has something to do with the monetary aspect of private prisons?
That’s one of the uniquely American tragedies. I don’t know of any other country where they have private prisons. It goes back to, I don’t know if you’ve ever read the book “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. She shows in very straightforward terms how it’s a new form of slavery because after slavery was outlawed, it wasn’t for convicts. They began filling the prisons with poor black people that they would pick up on the street for any reason; not having a job, not carrying an ID, and put them in prison. It still goes on to this day to an extent. That’s why Ferguson erupted, not just because of [Mike Brown’s] death, which was terrible, but because they’ve finally had enough. Or even when L.A. erupted, they had enough of being arrested for not mowing their lawn the right way or riding a bicycle on the sidewalk and ending up in jail. There is a profit motive because a lot of the mainstream products that people who are reading this use probably everyday are made by prisoners who are getting paid 19 cents an hour or nothing. In some places they make you work for nothing and if you refuse they take away your privileges; you’re not going to have any visits, you’re not going to have this or that. It’s like the few privileges that you do have when you’re in the system they take away. It’s a terrible situation all the way around. [Fyodor] Dostoevsky says “You can judge a society by the quality of their prisons.” I’m paraphrasing, but here it’s dreadful. They are violent, scary, terrible places that have very little focus on rehabilitation. It’s all about dehumanization and punishment.
You really don’t have much of a chance once the system gets you. If you’re poor, you have a real problem. ~ Jason Flom
Someone dies from gun violence every 16 minutes in America.
YOU CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT is a series of frank interviews with passionate men and women who are leaders, activists and influencers. Some have been my teachers, champions and support system on this very complicated and emotional journey and some I have admired from afar for their bravery, audacity and indomitable commitment to their work. Although our backgrounds, experiences and the challenges we face in our work are as complex as the causes and the solutions to the gun violence epidemic, all have shown me in different ways that there is more that can be done to end this senseless loss of human life.
I am proud to introduce you to each of them and excited to share their insights into how each of us can be a part of the solution to Raise The Caliber of our communities.
It’s something that my dad told me, “Do whatever you want to do, try to be the best at it, but remember that the most important thing is to make the world a better place.”
What are you most proud of about your work/life?
The thing I am most proud of about my work is the role that I’ve played in developing some of the greatest talent in the world- and by that I mean not just the artists but also the executives I’ve mentored.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your work?
The biggest challenge in my work in criminal justice reform is reversing the tragically failed American phenomenon of mass incarceration. Clearly with the current administration in Washington, the prospects for reform are extremely bleak but we are making great progress around the country on a state level, and paradoxically that’s even more important since 90% of America’s incarcerated population are in state prisons.
Why do you think we have such a problem with gun violence in America?
It seems pretty clear to me that the fact that we have literally hundreds of millions of guns and virtually no regulations on their sale and safety is a huge factor in the epidemic of gun violence in America, which is unprecedented in the history of Western civilization.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about why we have such a problem with gun violence in America?
The biggest misconception is that it’s a problem with our people. I disagree- I believe that Americans are fundamentally good, not evil, and that the problem is not a collective character deficit but easy access to guns.
Do you think there a law that the government could enact that would make a difference in reducing gun violence and building safe communities?
If it were up to me, which it’s not, the first law that I would enact in the interest of public safety would be mandatory trigger locks.
What are three things the average American citizen can do to “Raise The Caliber” of their community?
1. You can start by going to GlobalCitizen.org. They are a great organization that supports a variety of wonderful causes to solve the world’s biggest challenges, and they make it easy for you to become an activist.
2. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, animal shelter, a criminal justice reform organization…there are so many ways to give back to the community and they all start with getting off your couch and showing up!
3. Call your elected representatives!
Is there a book or article on this topic that has educated and inspired you?
There is an incredible video called Voices From Within that was filmed inside of Sing Sing Correctional Facility. It features several lifers who share their personal stories in a moving and powerful way with the goal of preventing future gun violence. Check out the trailer here: https://vimeo.com/99736358
There are a few other books that have had a profound effect on me that I would like to recommend:
1. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo- it’s my favorite book and it shaped my views on criminal justice
2. Actual Innocence by Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld and Jim Dwyer- this book hit me like a ton of bricks and inspired me to get involved with the Innocence Project
3. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson- read this book and you will understand why Bryan Stevenson is not only a towering figure in criminal justice reform but also a fearless fighter for civil and human rights the likes of whom we haven’t seen since MLK.
About the Editor: Jessica Mindich began the Caliber Collection® in January 2012 as a collaboration with the Mayor of Newark, NJ, Cory Booker, as a way to turn illegal and unwanted guns from our cities’ streets into jewelry. Their vision was to create a virtuous cycle by funding gun buyback and amnesty programs from the proceeds of the sales from the Caliber Collection. The jewelry is made with the serial numbers from illegal guns and the metal from shell casings. The Caliber Collection donates 20% of the net proceeds to fund voluntary gun buyback and amnesty programs in some of the toughest cities in America. To date, they have taken over 2,000 illegal guns off the streets and have raised over $150,000 for police departments in Newark, Hartford, the San Francisco Bay Area, Miami and Detroit from the sale of Caliber products to customers in over 87 countries.
Jason Flom joins PENN Law’s Felicia Lin and John Holloway, Executive Director, Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice.
The Prisons and Justice Initiative was honored to host an evening with Jason Flom, an internationally-recognized music executive and leader in the criminal justice reform field. Currently the CEO of Lava Records (and formerly CEO of Virgin Records and Atlantic Records), Flom is personally responsible for launching the careers of Katy Perry, Lorde, and Kid Rock, and has produced such artists as Jesse J, Matchbox 20, Skid Row, Tori Amos, Jewel, Coldplay, Lenny Kravitz, and many others.
In addition to his successful career as a music executive, Flom is also a leading philanthropist who has long championed various causes connected to social justice. He is a founding board member of the Innocence Project and is a board member of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, The Legal Action Center, and The Drug Policy Alliance. He has also been a leading advocate for presidential clemency, and he helped to influence numerous acts of clemency for non-violent drug offenders granted by Presidents Clinton and Obama.
In the fall of 2016, Flom launched the podcast Wrongful Conviction, an original series in which exonerees such as Amanda Knox, Marty Tankleff, and Raymond Santana share never-before-heard aspects of their experiences with injustice, incarceration, and survival.
In recognition of his remarkable achievements, Flom has been honored with many personal and professional awards, including the Innocence Project’s “Award for Freedom and Justice” and the ACLU’s “Torch of Liberty.” Flom’s dedication to criminal justice reform through a career in music demonstrates the potential contributions that people of all professions and backgrounds can make to ending mass incarceration.
Jason Flom appeared live on the Love-a-thon, the first-ever Facebook Live telethon, held on Inauguration day, which raised more than $200,000 for the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and Earthjustice . The event was inspired by the Jerry Lewis-style telethons of the past and served as a kind of counter programming to the events of the day. Funds are still being collected by Crowdrise , the top platform for internet fundraising. The telethon was also streamed on Upworthy, the Love-a-thon’s official media partner, and can still be watched at u.pw/Loveathon.
Jason appears about 1hr 9mins into the video on behalf of the Innocence Project. He was interviewed with Everton Wagstaffe, who was fully exonerated in 2014 after serving 23 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
2016 has been saddled with the title of “worst year ever” for some months now. The holiday season serves as the sugar helping the bitter medicine go down, but for many Americans, December proves to be the opposite, a rather sedentary affair. And nowhere is this truer than for the wrongfully convicted women and men living in the annals of our prison system.
According to the Washington Post, there are two million people behind bars in the United State alone, and a staggering 4.1 percent of people sentenced to death are later shown to be innocent. CEO of Lava Records Jason Flom is the founding board member of the Innocence Project, a non-profit organization committed to exonerating the wrongfully convicted. On his podcast, Wrongful Conviction, Flom has highlighted the resilience of spirit it takes to survive a faulty sentence in an unforgiving system. And for many, that will is tested most around Christmastime.
“I am always in awe of the strength, the grace and the courage it takes to endure,” Flom says. “I think all of us who have been lucky enough to avoid that fate have to sit in awe of these people, who manage not only to survive, but come out on the other side of this soul-crushing experience.”
Wrongful convictions are a big, big problem in the United States, and Lava Records Founder Jason Flom has had enough. He breaks down his work with the Innocence Project, which works to exonerate wrongfully convicted people, and sits down with Fernando Bermudez, who was exonerated after spending 18 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit.
Innocence Project co-founder Peter Neufeld and board member Jason Flom talk to Shawn King about the state of wrongful conviction in the United States, how and why it happens and their work on exonerating hundreds of people convicted of crimes they didn’t commit.Later, Shawn and Jason are joined by NY Daily News Sr. Justice Writer Shaun King to talk about the personal stories of exonerees they’ve met and Flom’s compelling new podcast, “Wrongful Conviction.”
“Wow, that is quite the board!” Amanda Knox exclaimed on Friday morning, taking in the massive mixing console at the Platinum Sound recording studio in Hell’s Kitchen, as she deposited her luggage in a corner of the room. The former exchange student, who was prosecuted by Italian authorities for the murder of her roommate based on a ludicrous theory that nonetheless inspired feverishly lurid headlines around the world, was in town from Seattle to tape a holiday edition of the Wrongful Convictionpodcast. Graceful and warm, with a bright easy smile, she wore a loose putty-colored sweater and bore little resemblance to the accused teen temptress and sadistic killer whose supposed misdeeds were so gleefully chronicled by the tabloid media. (The charges were finally thrown out by the Italian Supreme Court in 2015, and a documentary on the case is currently available on Netflix.)
Knox and the show’s other guests, Jarrett Adams and Jeff Deskovic, had each been convicted of a savage crime and subsequently proven innocent. For this installment of the series, which the production team was calling, half-jokingly, “A Very Special Wrongful Christmas,” the plan was to talk about what it’s like to celebrate the holidays behind bars, when your situation is more Franz Kafka than Frank Capra.
The recording facility, which has also hosted such well-known artists as Rihanna, Shakira, and Kendrick Lamar, features an impressive 85-channel vintage SSL console. That might seem like overkill for a podcast, but the series’ creator and host, Jason Flom, is hardly a typical podcaster. Described in a lengthy 2003 New Yorker profile as “one of the most successful record men of the last 20 years,” he is the founder and CEO of Lava Records and has held the top jobs at Atlantic, Virgin, and Capitol. Over the course of his nearly four-decade-long career, he discovered and nurtured an impressive roster of acts, including Twisted Sister, White Lion, Stone Temple Pilots, Matchbox 20, Skid Row, Tori Amos, Jewel, Hootie & the Blowfish, Kid Rock, Lorde, and Katy Perry.
April 8, 1989, is a date Raymond Santana will never forget.
Santana is among the countless individuals who have been wrongfully convicted in the American judicial system. To help these individuals uncover the truth behind these cases, music industry vet Jason Flom launched a podcast titled Wrongful Conviction, which premiered Oct. 3 on iTunes, that gives former prisoners the opportunity to tell their stories.
Flom has spent years behind the desk at major music companies likes Republic Records, Atlantic Records and his current stint as co-founder and CEO of Lava Records. Channeling his talents into advocacy, his latest project takes him from behind the desk and into the shoes of many people who have served time in prison for a crime they did not commit. The first podcast episode featured Raymond Santana, who was charged of allegedly raping and assaulting a 29-year-old jogger along with his four other friends. Santana was just 14 when he was convicted and spent 12 years behind bars before DNA surfaced, exonerating him and his friends of all charges.
Music industry legend and Lava Records CEO Jason Flom joins Jim and Matt in-studio to talk about discovering artists like Katy Perry, Lorde, Kid Rock, and Twisted Sister, his new podcast Wrongful Conviction, and his gratifying work with The Innocence Project.
Legendary music executive Jason Flom has led a double life for the past two decades.
In one, he discovers multi-platinum artists like Katy Perry and Lorde. In another, he helps everyday people like Steven Lennon — and changes their lives by freeing them from prison.
“Serendipity is a big part of my story,” he says. “And synchronicity.”
In 1993, Flom happened to pick up a copy of the New York Post (The Times was sold out) and read a story that would lead him to become an “obsessive advocate” for first offenders — and for people imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit at all.
“The headline was something like, ‘Cuomo Denies Ferraro Bid for Drug Dealer Parole’ or something like that,” Flom tells me. “And I was like, wow, this story has two things that fascinate me — drugs and prison. Perfect, right?”
Lava Records founder and CEO Jason Flom has a “spidey-sense” of sorts for musical talent; throughout his career he’s successfully discovered unknown artists who have gone on to be superstars. Flom spent time as the CEO of both Atlantic Records and Virgin Records as well as the Capitol Music Group, and helped to break artists such as Kid Rock, Katy Perry and Lorde.
How has he done it?
“It’s called ‘instinct.’ It’s a strange talent to have,” Flom told me on the Brown and Scoop podcast on CBS Radio’s Play.it. “Music is an emotion. It’s magic. You can’t see it, hold it…you can feel it inside. When I first heard Lorde, I said, ‘What in the world am I listening to? This is incredible.’ It’s a strange skill to have. I don’t take it lightly. I always think there’s a lot of luck in A&R. You have to be in the right place at the right time. You have to be in the right mood. There’s a lot of coincidence involved. You have to be lucky.”
One of his more fortuitous signings was Katy Perry. But he passed on her when he first heard her, before coming to his senses about a month later. Here’s the entire story:
“So I met her at the Polo Lounge in LA. She walks in and sat down and I was like, ‘This girl’s a star.’ It was just obvious to me. She sat and opened her mouth and I was like she’s going places.”
She hadn’t “gone places” yet, but Flom knew there was something about her. “A real star walks and talks and wears clothes differently than other people do. My ‘spidey senses’ tell me that. She’s one of those people. Back then, she didn’t have a dime. She can still dress in a way that somebody else may dress and look like a normal schloob. But she lights it up. That’s how it started.”
Every year, thousands of Americans are wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. Through DNA testing, more than 341 innocent people in the United States have been exonerated, and Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom will tell their individual stories. As part of an original series available on reVolver Podcasts, these exonerees will share never-before-heard aspects of their experiences with injustice, incarceration, and ultimately, survival.
Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom will deliver episodes based on actual case files of The Innocence Project. The Innocence Project is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. The organization was founded in 1992 by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. To celebrate the launch of the podcast, Flom has pledged to donate up to $1 million to The Innocence Project. From September through December 2016, he will donate $1 per consumer download.
Jason Flom, an American music industry executive and CEO of Lava Records, is a Founding Board Member of The Innocence Project. “These stories are real life tragedies and each one teaches us a lesson. Our criminal justice system is in desperate need of reform and we have hundreds of examples to prove that point. My hope is that when people download and listen to Wrongful Conviction they will be inspired to join me in this fight,” said Flom.
“We are honored to host Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom exclusively on reVolver Podcasts,” said Stephen Hobbs, Chief Digital Officer, reVolver Podcasts. “This is an incredible show, and a reminder that we must be ever vigilant of the justice system, to ensure we are truly protecting the innocent.”
The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law will provide research and data for each episode of Wrongful Conviction. The Brennan Center is a nonpartisan law and policy institute whose research and advocacy on issues surrounding mass incarceration is universally respected. Listeners can follow Jason Flom on Instagram and Twitter @itsjasonflom.
Inquiries regarding sales or marketing partnerships can be directed to reVolver Podcasts at Stephen@revolverpodcasts.com. For questions about content or to find out how to become a content provider and host, email firstname.lastname@example.org. To listen to the podcasts on iTunes, click here.
About reVolver Podcasts
reVolverPodcasts.com is the online destination for the very best in multicultural, on-demand audio and is the home of “El Show de Piolín” podcast. Listeners can discover, connect and engage with the most popular multicultural podcasts. reVolver Podcasts reaches a highly engaged audience across mobile, desktop and connected devices. For more information about the company, visit www.revolverpodcasts.com.
Calling All Lawyers: Clemency Project
I write to ask for the assistance of lawyers of all practice backgrounds in a project that is of utmost urgency and importance: The Clemency Project.
As many of you know, I am a founding board member of the Innocence Project and I serve on the boards of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, The Drug Policy Alliance and The Legal Action Center. I have long been a crusader for justice reform and believe deeply in the concept of redemption and forgiveness. Unfortunately, America has become a land of mass incarceration, largely as a result of draconian mandatory sentencing that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of non-violent offenders imprisoned for decades, or even life.
Fortunately, there have been changes in the law that have rolled back some of the harshest sentencing practices. But, bizarrely, many of these changes are not retroactive and thus not available to those who were sentenced under the old laws. That is where the Clemency Project comes into play.
Clemency Project 2014 is a joint effort launched by the American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section, the ACLU, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and many federal defenders. It was formed in response to a request from the Obama administration to provide pro bono assistance to inmates who might qualify for commutations under the criteria announced by the Department of Justice. TheProject established the infrastructure to support this pro bono effort and provides training and resources for lawyers who volunteer to help. Clemency Project 2014 has reviewed thousands of inmate requests and has submitted more than 600 petitions for clemency thus far. But there are still 2,000 cases left to be reviewed and time is running out. President Obama has already granted more commutations than the past five presidents combined and he has pledged to vastly accelerate the pace, but they need good petitions to do so! This initiative that presents a once in a lifetime opportunity for lawyers to reverse the ravages of the harsh sentencing policies that have ruined the lives of so many. There are countless inmates who can benefit from this program, but they need lawyers to help and they need them now.
To volunteer, simply register with the project at: https://clemencyproject2014.org/training. Please note in the comment box on the survey that you were referred by Jason Flom. In only five to ten hours of your time, you will help a human being regain his freedom. As society awakens to the tragedy that resulted from the draconian sentencing practices of the past few decades, it would be unconscionable to leave behind those whose prison terms would be less if they were sentenced under current law. The opportunity to restore a person to freedom is an invaluable gift – both for the liberated and the liberator.
Founded in 1992 by Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, the Innocence Project is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating the wrongly convicted and reforming the system to prevent future injustice. It has helped to exonerate 178 people through DNA testing.
“I am deeply committed to the work of the Innocence Project and I’m honored and humbled to chair this great event. Meeting and getting to know many of these remarkable men and women, the exonerees, has profoundly impacted my life, making me want to do everything in my power to prevent and correct these horrible injustices,” says Flom.
Flom has been a leading advocate for the Innocence Project and criminal justice reform over the past 25 years. Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, attests, “Jason has been a champion for the exonerated since our earliest days. He understood immediately the tremendous power of these stories of injustice and has been an indispensable force in nurturing and growing the Innocence Project.”
Jason Flom serves on the Board of Directors of the Drug Policy Alliance, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the Legal Action Center and the NYU Prison Education Program. He is a pioneer in the bail reform movement, having initiated the first bail fund of its kind with the Bronx Defenders, which is changing the way bail works in New York by providing bail assistance to people charged with low-level offenses who cannot afford to pay for their freedom.
On April 15th, Flom gave one of the keynote speeches at the Tom Tom Founders Festival in Charlottesville, Virginia, addressing mass incarceration in the United States and his personal experiences with entrepreneurship, music and synchronicity. On April 17th, he moderated a discussion with the esteemed lawyers from Netflix’s Making A Murderer, Dean Strang and Jerry Buting, at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. Jason Flom recently lectured at Yale Law School on capital punishment and innocence with Kirk Bloodsworth, the first person to have served time on death row to have been exonerated by DNA evidence. In addition to these recent speaking engagements, Jason Flom had an open letter addressing clemency issues published in the Hollywood Reporter, which can be viewed here.
On April 29th, Flom’s second episode on Adam Carolla and criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos’s podcast “Reasonable Doubt” will be available for download and streaming on iTunes. This June, Flom will be a speaker at the Midem Music Conference in Cannes.
As these cases work their way through the system, though, even more is being done. Jason Flom is the CEO of Lava Records, credited with discovering Katy Perry, Lorde, and Kid Rock, among others. He is also a founding board member of the Innocence Project, which uses DNA testing to exonerate those who have been wrongly convicted. Among his newest justice-reform projects, one stands out as eminently achievable: Flom wants to get rid of cash bail. Boom.
In any given year, city and county jails across this country lock up between 11 and 13 million people just because they aren’t rich enough to write a check for a few hundred dollars. Flom is convinced that every city in the United States should follow the lead of Washington D.C., which has done away with cash bail. I spoke with Flom to find out what this new crusade is all about, why one of the country’s leading record moguls is obsessing over it, and why America has one criminal justice system for the rich and another for the poor.
Lava Records founder Jason Flom could be the most successful recording executive of this era. But it was his other great passion—for justice—that packed the Paramount at the Tom Tom Festival Founders Summit April 15.
Flom, who said he lost his virginity at a Yes concert when he was 15, launched mega-performers like Katy Perry, Lorde and Kid Rock. He recalled his father telling him, when he balked at finishing college, “Do what you want to do. Just make the world a better place.”
In 1992, he heard about a kid serving serving a 15 years-to-life sentence for cocaine under the harsh Rockefeller drug laws in New York. “I decided to get involved,” he said. “I had my own history of doing drugs. There but for the grace of God….”
Even his own attorney told him nothing could be done, but at Flom’s expense, the attorney got a hearing and the man was freed. “That was so profound,” he said. And that launched his own criminal justice advocacy with Families Against Mandatory Minimums and The Drug Policy Alliance and he was a founding board member of the Innocence Project.
A week ago, Virginia’s latest exoneration was Keith Harward, who walked out of prison after 33 years for a murder and rape he didn’t commit, convicted on the “terrible forensics” of now-discredited bite mark evidence, said Flom. DNA evidence proved he was not the murderer, and 40 percent of exonerations show who the real criminal was, said Flom. In Harward’s case, the real perp was a serial rapist who went on to attack again (he died in prison 10 years ago).
“That never needed to happen if police had done their job,” Flom said.
Contrary to the impression given by TV crime dramas like CSI and Law and Order, many people will probably be surprised to learn that most of the so-called forensic sciences have not been scientifically validated – no scientific research has been done to prove these frequently used forensic tools are actually reliable in determining the guilt or innocence of defendants accused of crimes. In fact, in nearly half of the convictions that have been overturned in recent years through DNA evidence, unvalidated and improper forensic science was a contributing factor in the original conviction.
Yet for decades, courts have allowed into evidence unreliable forensic practices such as bite mark comparison and microscopic hair analysis, which in many cases was the only physical evidence linking a defendant to a crime.
At the Innocence Project, of which I am proud to be a founding board member, our mission is to exonerate wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing and criminal justice system reform. Since its founding in 1992, 337 wrongful convictions have been overturned through DNA testing, and more than half were helped by the Innocence Project. These cases have helped to identify both the flaws in the system and how to fix it.
One of the Innocence Project’s principal priorities has been to rid the system of unreliable forensic evidence – which is often extremely persuasive to jurors precisely because it is cloaked in science. In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences issued a seminal report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, documenting the lack of scientific validation in forensic practices and calling on research and national standards to improve public safety and reduce wrongful convictions.
The Innocence Project has been an instrumental force in pushing lawmakers in Washington to act on the recommendations in the report, but we also realized that this is a problem that could be addressed through the courts. If courts did their job of properly weighing the evidentiary value of this evidence and excluded it from our courtrooms when it isn’t based on actual science, we could make a huge impact in preventing wrongful convictions.
Founding board member of The Innocence Project Jason Flom returns for this week’s episode of Reasonable Doubt. The guys kicks off the show talking about Jason’s program as well as both drug and bail reform. After that they get into different prison population percentages around the world and how they compare to our numbers. Before they wrap the guys talk about which presidential candidate will be best at addressing and fixing our current prison systems.
The Netflix series Making a Murderer has captivated viewers, sparking outrage around the dubious and possible wrongful convictions of Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey for the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach.
As a founding board member and longtime supporter of the Innocence Project and other criminal justice reform organizations, I’ve gotten to know many people who served lengthy sentences for crimes they didn’t commit. (Consequently, the opinions expressed are mine and not the Innocence Project’s.) While every exoneree’s experience is unique, I am repeatedly surprised at how well these men and women have dealt with the horror of having served hard time for a crime they didn’t commit. While there are certainly emotional scars, these brave men and women have impressed me with their ability to heal and lead productive lives.
That’s what makes the Avery case such an outlier. There is no question that he is absolutely innocent of the 1985 rape of Penny Beerntsen. Avery was represented by the Wisconsin Innocence Project (independent from the Innocence Project), which obtained DNA testing that not only proved Avery’s innocence after he served 18 years but also identified convicted sex offender Gregory Allen as the true perpetrator. Yet shortly after his exoneration, Avery made headlines again as the suspect in the murder of Halbach, a crime for which he and Dassey were eventually convicted. In their documentary, filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos make a compelling argument that Avery is very likely innocent of that crime too.
As we saw with Serial and HBO’s The Jinx, Making a Murderer has exposed the fallibility of the criminal justice system. While it is impossible to know whether Avery and Dassey are innocent solely by the documentary, it raises many issues that we see time and again in the cases of those wrongly convicted.
Consider the police interrogation tactics used against Dassey, who was just 16 and according to school records had an IQ less than 70: the 16-year-old was questioned repeatedly without an attorney or guardian present, and it is clear from the videotaped interrogation that the officers’ goal was to get a confession rather than help them solve a murder.
While inconceivable to many people, false confessions have been a key factor in more than a quarter of the 337 DNA exonerations nationwide. Luckily Wisconsin, where Dassey was arrested, requires that interrogations be recorded in full. Without that law, there would likely be no footage of Dassey’s alleged confession, making it impossible to prove how he was treated by police. While recording interrogations isn’t an absolute guarantee against wrongful convictions, it creates a record for later review by the jury and courts. Yet 31 states, including New York, don’t mandate the recording of interrogations. Did we learn nothing from the wrongful convictions in the case of the Central Park Five?
Making a Murderer also paints a bleak picture of the criminal defense bar. While Avery was able to afford lawyers who did a very admirable job, his nephew had to rely on the attorney provided by the state. Exoneration cases are filled with stories of attorneys who were asleep, drunk, incompetent or simply too overburdened. An Innocence Project report on the first 255 DNA exonerations revealed that claims of ineffective assistance were raised in about 1 in 5 of the DNA exonerations. Yet there are no meaningful systems to track ineffective assistance, much less do anything about the bad lawyers, and many state public defender organizations are woefully underfunded.
Yet what has truly captured the public’s attention is undoubtedly the alleged police and prosecutorial misconduct at the heart of the documentary. The allegations that are put forth are indeed very serious — that police framed Avery and that the prosecutor was so caught up in securing a conviction that he failed in his duty to seek the truth. Here again there is no accountability. Many police departments are subject to civilian review boards, but they almost never find the police at fault. While police can be sued civilly for violating defendant’s constitutional rights, the U.S. Supreme Court has given prosecutors almost complete immunity from civil liability, even for intentional misconduct that results in wrongful convictions.
I am hopeful that the public outrage that has resulted from these shows will be remembered as the tipping point when we finally decided to take seriously the need to fix the system. Change will only happen when we demand it. How many more innocent lives will be ruined before we do?
Jason Flom is the CEO of Lava Records, and a founding board member of the Innocence Project and on the boards of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the Legal Action Center and The Drug Policy Alliance.
People often ask me why I got involved with the Innocence Project… I got hooked on this mission 17 years ago because of an exoneration story I read in the newspaper. I simply couldn’t imagine anything worse than being stripped of your freedom, choices, and humanity for a crime you did not commit. Now, almost 2 decades later, the Innocence Project has exonerated hundreds of innocent men and women including dozens who had been sentenced to death.
It’s also worth noting that in a large percentage of the cases in which we have exonerated the person who was innocent we have been able to help identify the actual perpetrator and bring them to justice, thereby preventing future violent crimes. I feel very fortunate and humbled to be able to work with the Innocence Project and the amazing people who are our clients-it is a huge part of my life and I will be committed to this cause forever.
“I’m thrilled to be in business with the fantastic team at Kobalt and I look forward to super-serving great artists and songwriters as we build LAVA Music Publishing into a major force in the business.”
KOBALT SIGNS EXCLUSIVE DEAL WITH JASON FLOM FOR LAVA MUSIC PUBLISHING
Worldwide deal to include administration, synchronization and creative Company headed by Lava Records Founder and CEO, Jason Flom.
Kobalt Music Publishing (KMP) announced May 19th that it has completed a new deal with LAVA Music Publishing, the company founded by renowned U.S. label head, Jason Flom.
Under the new agreement, KMP will provide exclusive worldwide publishing administration, synchronization and licensing rights in addition to creative services. New signings following the deal include songwriters Scott Stevens and Max Matluck and LAVA Records’ newest priority signing, Maty Noyes.
As the head of LAVA Records and LAVA Publishing, Jason Flom, has been labeled by The New Yorker as “One of the most successful record men of the past 20 years.” Throughout his career he has held extensive leadership roles including, Chairman and CEO of Atlantic Records, Virgin Records and Capitol Music Group, respectively. In 1995, Flom founded the American-based record company, LAVA Records. With a knack for finding and developing artists to stardom status, he has discovered major acts from Kid Rock to Katy Perry and his latest international success, Lorde.
LAVA Music Publishing’s team includes west and east coast Heads of Creative Services, Gali Firstenberg and Nullah Sarker. Both Firstenberg and Sarker will report directly to Flom.
Richard Sanders, President of Kobalt Music Group said, “I have long admired Jason’s unparalleled talent for discovering hits and developing superstar talent. After first working together nearly 25 years ago, it is a pleasure to work with Jason again on his new publishing venture.”
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