Caught: A Podcast Review


You are sixteen. The handcuffs feel tight on your wrists, and an officer drags you by the arm into the courtroom. As you settle into your seat, your lawyer argues for a light sentence, perhaps entry into a therapeutic program. But before you know it, the judge speaks words you will never forget: Life in prison, with the possibility of parole. Before you get a chance to look back at your crying mother, you are being dragged back into the van, handcuffs tighter than ever.

Introducing Caught, a 2018 podcast produced by WNYC studios that looks unflinchingly into the eye of our juvenile incarceration system. Each episode focuses on a different teenager who has been placed into a juvenile reformation program–detention centers, group therapy homes, and even wilderness programs designed to “break” troublesome youth into law-abiding citizens. Throughout this nine-part audio experience, host Kai Wright and WNYC journalists, working with convicted youth, strive to answer one central question: what are we doing wrong? From first-hand accounts to anecdotes from lawyers working in juvenile justice, Caught examines our national crisis of criminal reform by starting from the bottom.

The anthology begins with the story of “Z,” a 16-year-old black male who began his relationship with law enforcement at just 12 years old. Now spending his days in juvenile detention on armed robbery charges, Z faces the possibility that his future may be defined by a system that has labeled him as a criminal since pre-adolescence. Leaving Z on the eve of his court decision, the podcast returns to his story in the last episode as listeners get to listen to the judge’s final ruling on Z’s case.

Z isn’t the only teenager to be introduced on the show, however. One story that was particularly striking was that of “Honor,” a teenage boy struggling with leukemia, mental health issues, poverty, and a possible prison sentence. After a life-changing event he refers to as “the incident,” Honor and his family have now been placed under mandatory court-appointed family therapy in order to avoid prison.

This podcast features many more stories, all heartbreaking and equally thought-provoking. Caught strives to answer the tough questions with the assertion that “mass incarceration starts young.” Well produced, educational, and disturbing, Caught is an audio production unlike any other.