Justice in Education Scholar Topeka Sam writes her first Op-Ed as 2017 Soros Fellow

It’s Time to Overhaul America’s Broken Probation and Parole Systems

July 13, 2017   Topeka K. Sam


I was released from prison two years and two months ago. Since then, I have been working to improve the lives of formerly incarcerated women and men.

I’ve received fellowships from Beyond the Bars and the Open Society Foundations, and was named a Justice in Education Scholar at Columbia University. I founded the Ladies of Hope Ministries, which helps women and girls transition from prison back into society through education, entrepreneurship, and advocacy. I am establishing Hope House, a re-entry housing development for women and girls. As a founding member and national organizer of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, I have crisscrossed the country organizing council chapters and creating symposiums at law schools nationwide.



Center for Justice Partners on New Early Diversion Initiative

The Center for Justice is excited to partner with the Osborne Association and the Advancing Justice Initiative at the Columbia School of Social Work on a new Early Diversion Initiative launched by the Office of the District Attorney of New York County, Cy Vance Jr.

The Early Diversion Initiative will create early diversion programs that provide participants with opportunities to avoid prosecution and an arrest record through participating in short term programming in the community.

Our partners at the Osborne Association had this to say “The Osborne Association is honored to partner with the Center for Justice at Columbia University to divert people who have been arrested in Harlem by offering a meaningful community alternative to court process that can lead to better outcomes for individuals and safer communities. We thank District Attorney Vance for this opportunity to offer pathways out of the criminal justice system and into targeted interventions and wrap-around services. The District Attorney’s Criminal Justice Investment Initiative and commitment to alternatives to traditionally punitive prosecutions promises to make a real difference in the lives of all New Yorkers.” – Osborne Association President and CEO Elizabeth Gaynes

You can read the full press release from the District Attorney’s Office HERE. 

Cheryl Wilkins Gives Keynote Speech at Washington Women’s Prison Graduation


‘You go, girl!’: Joy, tears as 19 Washington prison inmates earn college degrees

Senior Director of Education and Programs, Cheryl Wilkins on Higher Education in prison

This Former Inmate Is Fighting for Every Prisoner’s Right to a College Degree


Story by 
Photos by Laura Baker


As Cheryl Wilkins accepted her college diploma, hundreds of women screamed her name and whooped with joy. They were so loud that Wilkins’ brother, sitting with his four-year-old daughter, couldn’t hear the girl cheering, “Auntie! Auntie!” Other family members were even more enthusiastic. When another woman’s name was called, her six-year-old daughter grabbed her hand and dragged her to the stage. “Come on Mama, get your degree!” Wilkins remembers the girl shouting. “Her daughter took the diploma and walked off the stage with it.”



Opening Minds Behind Bars: The Justice in Education Initiative featured in the Columbia Magazine

What happens when you bring college classes to incarcerated men and women?

by James S. Kunen ’70CC Published Summer 2017

If you’ve ever glanced out the window of a plane flying into or out of LaGuardia Airport, you’ve seen Rikers Island. The flat strip of land, strikingly treeless, sits in the East River between Queens and the Bronx. With its clusters of long, low buildings, Rikers could be some sort of warehouse and distribution center, where tractor-trailers back up to bays to be loaded or unloaded. But there are no trucks. What is warehoused here is people — about 7,500 on any given day — detained by the New York City Department of Correction. Most of them, accused but not yet convicted of crimes, have been waiting months and even years for their day in court. Others have been found guilty and sentenced to a year or less in jail….


Restore Voting Rights in Florida

Florida is one of only four states that denies the right to vote to all former felons until they petition for rights restoration – this process is the target of our lawsuit. About 1.6 million Floridians are currently disenfranchised under this system—the highest state total in the nation.This includes men and women of all different political parties, races, ethnicities, ages, from cities and rural areas, as well as veterans, small business owners and others…


The Center for Justice welcomes Cristiana Grigore and the Roma Digital Archive



The Roma people are the largest ethnic minority in Europe and unfortunately the most discriminated. They migrated from the Northern side of India about a thousand years ago and never found a place in the world. They are spread all over Europe and other parts of the world. The Roma people are more commonly known as gypsies…



Make your commitment: Contributing to criminal justice reform


How can teaching Plato in prisons teach us what justice is? 

Plato’s Republic begins with Athenians asking: what is justice? Now, through the Justice-in-Education initiative, Columbia faculty and students look for answers in a setting that goes well beyond the theoretical, reading dizzying Socratic dialogues with currently or formerly incarcerated students…

Click here to read full article at Giving to Columbia and make a gift to contribute to criminal justice reform.



Geraldine Downey

My commitment: Contributing to criminal justice reform

When I finished my BS in Dublin, I was working on a project with kids on probation. I became interested in why some kids became violent as adolescents, which led me to look at their families and communities. There was a significant association between kids being abused or neglected, coming from a very disadvantaged area, and ending up as violent juvenile delinquents. I then grew curious about how different forms of maltreatment communicate a sense of rejection…

Click here to read full article at Giving to Columbia and make a gift to contribute to criminal justice reform.



Beyond the Bars 2017 Recap

Thank you to everyone who joined us for the 7th annual Beyond the Bars Conference: Transcending the Punishment Paradigm.  We are grateful for the more than 1500 attendees and the 150+ speakers who joined us over the four days. This year’s conference focused on the criminal justice system’s responses to violence focusing on the following four questions:

  1. What are the root causes of violence within communities? What are the root causes of state violence? How do the two intersect?
  2. What is needed to makes communities safe?
  3. What are the existing narratives about people who have committed violent acts? How do we change those narratives?
  4. When violence happens in the community, what are responses that decrease mass criminalization and incarceration and do not rely on the punishment paradigm?


Recap Video Below 


We are especially thankful to the dozens of organizers and supporters that contributed in some way to make this a meaningful and important event.

We have lots to share from this year and are looking forward to publishing a report from the conference in the Fall of this year.

Voices from Beyond the Bars 

Videos from the Conference 

Conference Programs 



2017 Recap Video