Beyond the Bars 2019 – Save the Date

Save the Date!
Beyond the Bars
March 7-10, 2019

Mark your calendars! The 9th annual Beyond the Bars Conference of the Center for Justice at Columbia University will focus on women and girls: the impact of incarceration and criminalization on women and girls, their families and communities. The many struggles for justice, equity and safety led by women directly impacted by the criminal justice system will be at the heart of the conference as we create a space to design change.  Beyond the Bars 2019 will continue developing the collaboration between universities and the many ongoing efforts to end mass incarceration.

Fall Trainings

We have a number of great trainings happening this fall all with the aim of supporting people who are advancing alternative approaches to justice, safety, healing and accountability. Please join us!

Responding Restoratively: An Introduction to Restorative Principles and Practices
with Sethu Nair and Cameron Rasmussen

November 2nd-4th, 2018
9:30-5:00pmColumbia School of Social Work
1255 Amsterdam AveThis is an introductory training to the principles and practices of restorative justice and restorative approaches to conflict resolution. Participants will learn the ethos of restorative approaches including underlying theory and values as well as experience and learn some foundational tools to respond to conflict and harm in a restorative way. Participants will learn how to facilitate restorative community building circles and less formalized restorative responses.


Full Circle: Reclaiming and Reconnecting to Our Restorative Practices
with Whitney Richards-Calathes

November 9th-11th, 2018
9:30-5:00pmColumbia School of Social Work

1255 Amsterdam AveThis three day experience is an opportunity for those who identify as a people of color to collectively explore restorative/transformative justice and circle practice and philosophy. It is an invitation to reconnect with our indigenous roots, our ethnic identities, and our cultural practices.  How do we ensure that restorative action is always in alignment with racial justice? How do we reclaim circle keeping as a cultural tool as well as an abolitionist stance? How can we embody transformations away from punishment as transformations away from white supremacy too?  This training will give tools and information, but it will also be highly experiential. All levels of experience with RJ are welcome, but this is an opportunity specifically for people that identify as people of color, that work predominantly in spaces with people of color.


The Empathic Facilitator: Leading A Transformative Group Process
With Piper Anderson

November 30th – December 1st

The Empathic Facilitator is a two-day training for anyone who leads groups and wants to develop the skills to lead a transformative change process. The principles and practices learned in this training can be adapted for a range of settings and groups whether you regularly facilitate workshops, team meetings, or offer one-on-one coaching.


Center for Justice receives grant from the NoVo Foundation’s Radical Hope Fund for new initiative, Women Transcending

The Center for Justice is excited to share that we have been granted funding from the Novo Foundation’s Radical Hope Fund for our newest Initiative, Women Transcending.

Women Transcending was developed by and for women impacted by mass incarceration. It is dedicated to ending the system of mass incarceration, criminalization, and retribution, replacing it with one centered on prevention and healing. Radical Hope funding will be used to support an education center providing the tools, training, skills, movement history, leadership development, peer mentoring, platform, and vibrant community that women need to become transformative social justice advocates. Participants will develop strategies to confront the criminalization of women, their families, and communities; support women returning home from prison; document the growth of directly impacted women’s leadership, and ultimately change the structure of justice in the United States and beyond.

You can read more about the Radical Hope Fund and the other grantees HERE

Op-Ed from Bruce Western and Bernard Harcourt on Parole Reform and the Case of Herman Bell

Columbia Law Professor Bernard Harcourt and Columbia Justice Lab Director and Professor of Criminal Justice Policy at Harvard University Bruce Western co-wrote an op-ed in the Daily News on the case for parole reform and the case of Herman Bell.

Harcourt and Western write “New York’s new parole rules bring the state more into line with international standards and acknowledge a reality uncovered by criminologists. Criminal offending declines with age, and virtually all people convicted of crimes ultimately cease their involvement in crime at some point in their lives. With very long prison sentences, we inevitably incarcerate people who pose no risk to society.

Just as important as the research evidence, the new parole rules acknowledge that unending terms of incarceration do too little to heal the pain of communities and families harmed by serious violence. The new parole rules express a belief that debts can be paid, and those who have caused terrible pain to others, like Bell, are nevertheless worthy of redemption.”

You can read the full article on the Daily News site here:

Why Should We Keep Murderers in Prison Until They Die? 

You can also read more about our work on parole reform from our report Aging in Prison: Reducing Elder Incarceration and Promoting Public Safety.


Beyond the Bars 2018 – Save the Date

Save the Date! 
Beyond the Bars: Closing Jails and Prisons
March 1-4, 2018

The 8th annual Beyond the Bars Conference of the Center for Justice at Columbia University seeks to contribute to the growing movement to close jails and prisons as a part of the larger struggle to end mass incarceration. In particular, we will focus on elevating the efforts led by grassroots organizers that include formerly incarcerated and directly impacted people.

Prison and jail closings have been taking place unevenly throughout the United States over the past decade. However, campaigns like the ones in New York, Los Angeles, and Milwaukee have helped to usher in a new phase, one that highlights the role of grassroots organizing and directly impacted leadership, and that has begun to put forth a more transformative vision of how to close jails and prisons and what comes in their place. Momentum for lasting change is building. Organizers, activists and scholars have been grappling with many of the deeply seeded issues related to incarceration and criminalization. From the movement to close youth prisons entirely, to centering the fight for racial justice, to highlighting the ways that women and lgbtq community are impacted, to focusing on the elderly inside prisons with long sentences that are about punishment not safety, to interrogating the effectiveness of punishment in reducing violence, we are at a moment where we are able to make concrete advances in reducing the carceral footprint.

It is our hope that this conference will bolster these efforts in the following ways:

  • Convene and support a national network of people and organizations working to close jails and prisons across the country
  • Help articulate a vision and analysis for closing jails and prisons and what comes in its place
  • Address and examine some of the difficult issues and questions that arise in the efforts to close jails and prison
  • Further catalyze university involvement in the struggle to end mass incarceration

RikersBot Featured in Fast Company

Our ongoing coding project, RikersBot, was featured in Fast Company. 

RikersBot is a coding and digital storytelling project created Group for the Experimental Methods in the Humanities and Center for Justice. The project brings Columbia students and Rikers students together to learn coding by creating an Twitter Bot and  write stories be shared via the Twitter Bot. We are currently in our second cycle of the project, with future iterations planned for each semester.

How Rikers Students and Columbia Students Built a Twitter Bot – with no Internet

By Steven Melendez

Not long ago, a team from Columbia University set out to build an automated Twitter bot in a place with no Internet access—part of a 12-hour class for people with no prior programming experience. They held the class at New York’s Rikers Island in an ongoing effort by Columbia’s Center for Justice to provide educational programs for young people incarcerated at the jail complex. Teenage inmates worked alongside Columbia students to learn the basics of Python, put together tweets about their personal experiences, and contributed code to Rikers Story Bot, which randomly selects and posts a tweet from the group every day.

“A good portion of the code that made it into the bot was written in that class,” says Dennis Tenen, a software engineer turned English professor and one of the course instructors.

Since Rikers doesn’t provide Internet access to inmates, the instructors couldn’t stick to a standard coding school curriculum. The class relied a lot more on physical materials than most introductory programming classes. For example, instructors brought in printed tweets—including tweets by musicians Drake and Meek Mill, and from President Obama and the New York City Department of Correction—for students to study before they wrote their own. And with fewer computers than students, the classes included physical demonstrations of programming tasks, like looping and sorting papers.

“Everybody kind of gets into it, and really what they’re learning is the basics of algorithmic thinking and the basics of control structure,” says Tenen.

The goal wasn’t to turn the students into professional-grade programmers in just a few classes, Tenen emphasizes, but to introduce them to the basics of programming and reasoning about algorithms and code.

“It’s really to give people a taste, to get people excited about coding, in hopes that when they come out, they continue,” says Tenen.

Each member of the class also got a title, like developer or editor, that they’d be able to use on a job or school application, he says. And when they did sit down at the computer, Tenen says the Rikers inmates were often more willing to experiment than the slightly older Columbia students.

“In many ways, they seemed like kids that were just very eager to learn to put into this system where their voices weren’t being heard,” says Thomas Brown III, a Columbia senior who participated in the class.

The full article in Fast Company can be seen HERE.

Report: Black girls disproportionately disciplined at school

Black girls in New York City schools are disciplined and suspended 10 times more often than their white counterparts, a report released this week found.

Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected, published by the African American Policy Forum and the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies at Columbia Law School, also found that 90 percent of all girls expelled from New York City schools in 2011-2012 were black — no white girls were expelled.

These findings are especially troubling considering the demonstrated relationship between school discipline and subsequent incarceration.

“The disproportionate suspension and expulsion rates for black girls reflect an overlooked crisis that affects not only their life chances, but also the well-being of their families, their communities, and society as a whole,” the report says.

Most of the prior research on this issue has focused exclusively on black boys. Though more boys than girls are suspended overall, race appears to be a more significant risk factor for girls than for boys: nationwide, black boys are suspended three times more often than their white counterparts, versus a 6 to 1 ratio for girls.

The authors recommend comprehensive reforms including increasing availability of school counseling services, training teachers to recognize signs of trauma and creating more programs targeted to pregnant and parenting students.

The report is available online here.

Beyond the Bars 2016 – Save the Date: March 4-6

The 6th Annual Justice Conference at Columbia University

BEYOND THE BARS Connecting the Struggles


The 6th annual Beyond the Bars Conference will take place March 4-6, 2016 at Columbia University. This year’s conference, Connecting the Struggles, aims to connect the many ways in which mass incarceration has impacted individuals, families and communities across the U.S, and beyond, as well as build connections across diverse struggles for social justice.

Albert Einstein stated that imagination is more powerful than knowledge ––Our comrade and sister Angela Davis, challenged us to imagine a world without prison. Join us as we honor the spirit of the struggle – join in solidarity with impacted people, and with academics, activists, practitioners and community members as we continue to connect the struggles in the efforts to eradicate mass incarceration.

Conference Schedule

Friday March 4th: Conference Kick Off Event with Angela Davis

Saturday March 5th: Panels and Breakout Sessions 

Sunday March 6th: Building the Grassroots – Organizing Workshops 

Conference Registration will begin in February 2016
As always the conference is free and open to the public

For More information about the conference click the link below:

Call for Workshop Proposals for Sunday March 6th

Have an idea for a workshop? We’re accepting workshop applications now [click here for more information]. Please apply by Friday January 29th.

Beyond the Bars is organized by the Criminal Justice Caucus at the Columbia School of Social Work, the Center for Justice at Columbia University, and the Beyond The Bars Fellows.

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