Christia Mercer: Reading gives people in prison hope. But some states want to take their books away.

We should be encouraging reading behind bars, given the nexus of illiteracy, criminal actions and high recidivism rates,

Jan.25.2018 / 9:57 AM ET

My students, occupants of the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center, had only just begun to settle into the semester when the prison went into lockdown in September 2017. For 12 days, MDC’s roughly 1,750 occupants were locked inside their cells, eating and defecating in their own little cages, some without the chance to shower.

What did my students do during those grimy days of confinement?




Center for Justice receives Harriet Tubman Award of Movement Building Towards Collective Liberation

The Center for Justice is honored to receive the Harriet Tubman Award of Movement Building Towards Collective Liberation from How Our Lives Link Altogether (H.O.L.L.A!) and their Youth Organizing Collective.

H.O.L.L.A is deeply committed to the healing and leadership of youth, in particular those who have been impacted by incarceration and criminalization.  We are proud to work alongside them in the work of justice and healing and humbled by their recognition.



You can learn more about H.O.L.L.A! through their website and social media:

Faith, Hope, Reconciliation: The Church’s Role in Prison Reform

Hosted by Cathedral of St. John the Divine, NYC

Monday, January 29 at 7 PM – 8:30 PM


Cathedral of St. John the Divine, NYC 1047 Amsterdam Avenue at 112th St, New York, New York 10025

The Cathedral is pleased to present a panel discussion, sponsored by the Society of Regents, on the increasing need for American prison reform and the ways in which we can push for the fair treatment of both currently and formerly incarcerated individuals. The panelists have worked on ending the privatization of prisons, the Close Rikers campaign, and helping with reentry and will discuss how to push for change from both inside and outside the church.

The Reverend Winnie Varghese, moderator, is the Director of Justice and Reconciliation at Trinity Church Wall Street.

Reverend Canon Petero Sabune served for five years as the Protestant Chaplain of Sing Sing Prison, and for several years has served as Liaison for Reentry for the New York Department of Corrections and Community Service.

Ms. Cheryl Wilkins is the Senior Director of Education and Programs at Columbia University’s Center for Justice, which works to advance alternative approaches to safety and justice through community collaboration, education, research and policy with the mission of reducing the nation’s reliance on incarceration.

Learn more about the Society of Regents and the many ways they support the Cathedral at


Click Here to Learn More

Beyond the Bars 2018 – Request for Proposals

Beyond the Bars – March 1-4, 2018

The Beyond the Bars Conference, now going into its 8th year, is an annual event that brings together a trans-disciplinary group to advance the work of ending mass incarceration and mass criminalization and building a just and safe society. Each year scholars, students, activists, advocates, policy makers, government officials and those who have been most directly impacted by issues of incarceration and criminalization come together for three days to deepen our collective analysis, strengthen our network of those working for change and make visible the many ways those from the academy and the community can engage in action.

This year’s conference will focus on elevating the growing movement to close jails and prisons to:

  1. Convene and support a national network of people and organizations
    working to close jails and prisons across the country
  2. Help articulate a vision and analysis for closing jails and prisons and
    envisioning what comes next
  3. Address and examine some of the difficult issues and questions that arise
    when people are calling for closing jails and prisons
  4. Further catalyze university involvement in ending mass incarceration

Request for Proposals

Sunday, March 4, 2018, the third day of the Beyond the Bars conference, will feature 45 to 90-minute organizing workshops. These sessions are designed to facilitate skill-sharing, learning, and active engagement in justice work. The workshops are a chance to to further understand the many political struggles connected to mass criminalization, to teach new tools for advocacy and organizing, and to connect participants to opportunities for continued engagement beyond the conference. What skills do you wish more people had?  What do people need to know in order to contribute more effectively to your work? What are the concrete steps people can take today to support the work that you’re doing?  What skills do you wish more people had?  We are particularly committed to highlighting the voices and organizing done by: people of color, women, queer and trans people, young people, and people directly impacted by incarceration and the criminal legal system.

We are interested in proposals that touch on various topics related to closing jails and prisons, including:

  • Building grassroots campaigns to close jails and prison or that tackle related issues

  • Building political power to end mass incarceration and criminalization

  • Organizing strategies and goals that decrease the number of people detained and incarcerated

  • Alternatives to detention and incarceration that don’t replace jails and prisons with other forms of criminalization

  • Restorative, transformative and healing justice practices

  • Political education around the many issues related to closing jails and prisons including bail, policing, speedy trial, parole reform.

  • Centering the lived experiences and leadership of people directly impacted by the criminal legal system

  • Developing and sustaining relationships and networks across organizations, campaigns, and geography

  • Alternative community uses for closed jails and prisons

We are looking forward to learning various skills, including:

  • Self care: how do you do this work while dealing with trauma?

  • Restorative approaches to reducing violence

  • Anti-oppressive organizational practices

  • Creating political campaigns

  • Political power-mapping as it relates to criminal justice policy

  • Community organizing and base building strategies (including direct actions and engagement with diverse communities)

  • Communicating your message (including the use of social media and presenting stories)

  • Arts-based activism

  • Supporting people experiencing state violence (including currently incarcerated people)

  • Fundraising and budgeting

  • Legal advocacy

  • Mediation

  • Other Related topic or skill:

We invite proposals for workshops that address one or more of these foundational topics and skills. In your proposal, please emphasize tangible takeaways for participants and the ways you will facilitate this through active participation and/or gaining a deeper understanding of an issue.

Accepted proposals will be interactive and bridge the gap from analysis to action. We are especially excited about workshops that provide the opportunities and/or resources for continued involvement after the conference weekend—either through one’s individual actions or through involvement with a group.

All workshops will be in either 45-minute or 75-minute blocks and take place on Sunday, March 4, 2018 at Columbia University School of Social Work.

Please include in your proposal: 1) the materials you will need for your workshop (e.g. projector, paper, markers, etc.), and 2) whether you would like to do a 45-minute or 75-minute workshop.

To submit a proposal, please fill out this form by Friday, January 26 at 11:59PM EST.

Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions or comments at:

Topeka K. Sam, Justice in Education Scholar and Co-Founder of Hope House featured in the NY Times

A House for Women Leaving Prison Sits Empty

When Shirelle Howard left prison in 2016, she had $112 in her pocket — her life savings.

After buying her train ticket from Taconic Correctional Facility to Manhattan ($12.75); a MetroCard ($5); and two slices of pizza and a soda for her first meal of freedom in 16 years ($2.99), she had $91.26 to start over.

For a year, she struggled. And then she got a lifeline: a room at “Hope House,” a new transitional home in the Castle Hill neighborhood of the Bronx for women just leaving prison.

At least, she thought she did…

Click Here to Read Full Article

NY Times Op-Ed from Columbia Law Professor Bernard Harcourt: Executing a Terminally Ill Inmate

The Ghoulish Pursuit of Executing a Terminally Ill Inmate

When judges schedule a lethal injection for a terminally ill prisoner whose struggle against lymphatic cancer and extensive medical history has left him without any easily accessible veins, our law descends into a ghoulish inferno. It is a dreadful place where our most august jurists ruminate over catheter gauges and needle sizes, and ponder whether to slice deep into the groin or puncture internal jugular veins. History will not judge us favorably….


Click Here to Read Full Article 


Related Article

The Decades-Long Defense of an Alabama Death-Row Prisoner Enters a Final Phase

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

Center for Justice Awarded the College and Community Fellowship Institutional Vision Award

On October 26th, 2017, the Center for Justice was awarded the College and Community Fellowship (CCF) Institutional Vision Award at their Bi-Annual Benefit Gala in downtown Manhattan. Center Directors Geraldine Downey and Kathy Boudin and Senior Director of Education and Programs Cheryl Wilkins accepted the award on behalf of the Center.


The Institutional Vision Award is given to formal institutions that participate in criminal justice reform work. CCF values the institutions that support the criminal justice reform movement with research, data, on-the-ground experience, and influence with their peers. The Center was honored as this year’s recipient for “its relentless commitment to transforming the criminal justice system and creating social change”.


CCF is an organization of educators, social workers, policy changers, and former students working together to help formerly incarcerated women succeed in college, career, family, and life while earning their college degrees. CCF seeks to eliminate individual and structural barriers to higher education, economic security, long term stability, and civic participation for women who have criminal convictions (including those currently and formerly incarcerated) and their families. CCF offers scholarship programs, professional and college counseling, mentorship, and social and support services. For more information on CCF and their work, please visit their website at:




BUZZ FEED interview with Keila Pulinario on reentry and employment

Keila Pulinario Thought Prison Was Tough. Then She Had To Find A Job.

For women looking for jobs after prison, it doesn’t just feel harder. It is harder. Meet the formerly incarcerated women who are helping one another to get ahead.

Not long after Keila Pulinario was released from prison, she was hit by a car while walking to work.

Pulinario was pissed off. Before the accident, she’d worked her first post-incarceration job at a culinary company that ran a cafeteria in New York City’s financial district. Afterward, she had to accept that her life wouldn’t be the same — that the back and shoulder injuries she’d suffered meant she could no longer be the same “beast in the kitchen,” on her feet all day without the time or flexibility to sit down and rest every so often. She couldn’t lift a heavy pot or pan with one hand anymore, let alone multitask at the breakneck pace of a commercial cook…



Congratulations to the first cohort of Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity

Congratulations to the first cohort of Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity, which includes criminal justice reform advocate, Marlon Peterson. Hosted at Columbia University, the fellowship will study the causes of and develop solutions to anti-black racism.


Twenty-nine advocates, organizers and artists selected from across the U.S. and South Africa to tackle anti-Black racism and white supremacy

NEW YORK, NY — The Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity (AFRE) named its first cohort of 29 Atlantic Fellows to begin a year-long program, expanding their work to challenge racism in the U.S. and South Africa and disrupt the rise of white nationalism and supremacy.

The inaugural group is composed of activists, lawyers, artists, scholars, advocates and other leaders, all accomplished in their work to end white supremacy and racism in the United States and South Africa. The cohort is the first of 10 in a 10-year, $60-million program centered on exposing and ending racial discrimination and violence that dehumanize Black people and, ultimately, harm all people.