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

Why Education Matters

by Professor Geraldine Downey, Director of the Center for Justice at Columbia University

Young people with a criminal history may face a lifetime of marginalization but we can support their transition to adulthood through education, says Geraldine Downey, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for Justice at Columbia University.

Downey’s interests lie in how people’s identities are shaped by experiences of rejection, whether because of something about them as a person or because of their membership in a stigmatized group. Her scholarship has been published in Psychological ScienceChild Development, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.


Center for Justice featured in the Columbia Newsletter

By Bashar Makhay

Spring 2017 Issue


In 2014 Columbia University’s Center for Justice, now headed by Geraldine Downey, grew out of a yearlong pilot project called the Justice Initiative. Its origins date back to 2009 with the founding of the “Criminal Justice Initiative: Supporting Children, Families, and Communities” based at the School of Social Work. The initiative was started by two formerly incarcerated women who are now in the leadership of the center and continue their work at the School of Social Work as well…


Sara Bennett uses photography as advocacy


The frankness of the photo makes you lean in. This is what a second chance looks like. Sara Bennett’s photo series Life After Life in Prison bears witness to four women—Tracy, Carol, Evelyn and Keila—as they navigate the process of reconstructing their lives, after serving anywhere from 17 to 35 years in New York State maximum security prison. They are lifers granted parole; lifers returning to life…







Center for Justice announces the June Jordan Fellowship

Funded by the William R. Kenan Charitable Trust


New York, NY (March 1st, 2017) – The Center for Justice at Columbia University announces the June Jordan Fellowship, named in honor of the renowned Harlem-born poet and activist. In each of the next two years, fellowships will be awarded to literary, visual, musical and performance artists who are committed to public engagement. “This fellowship was a dream of the Center for Justice from the very beginning of our work in harnessing the resources of Columbia University to reduce mass incarceration and promote alternative approaches to safety and justice,” said Geraldine Downey, Director of the Center for Justice. “We hope that bringing the various parts of our community together in an artistic endeavor will yield concrete proposals and actionable results on how the literary and performing arts can act as a catalyst for social change.”


June Jordan Fellows will work collaboratively with Columbia faculty and community partners to provide workshops that will be open to local community members – including junior and senior high school students – as well as members of Columbia’s student body. One or more of the fellows each year will contribute to Columbia University’s Rikers Education Program—a collaboration between the Center for Justice, and the Heyman Center for the Humanities, which partners Columbia faculty and students with community organizations and artists in order to provide workshops in areas such as music, graphic design and coding. The fellowship will also sponsor summer internships for high school students selected to participate in the JustArts summer program for young people from Harlem and Washington Heights. “Part of what we hope to foster with the June Jordan fellowship is an ongoing conversation, as well as consistent collaborative practice, between emerging artists and a broader community of folks living uptown,” said Dr. Joshua Bennett, director of The June Jordan Fellowship. “Our goal is to create workshop spaces that are not only sites of individual artistic growth and rigorous study, but also gathering, kinship, and play.”


The June Jordan Fellowship will bring 3-5 fellows to campus every year, each of whom will teach semester-length workshops. The artwork produced in these workshops will be featured during a day-long conference at the end of the spring semester. Each Fellowship carries a stipend of $26,000.


About the Center for Justice at Columbia University


The Center for Justice at Columbia University is committed to reducing the nation’s reliance on incarceration and advancing alternative approaches to safety and justice through education, research and policy. Our mission is to help transform a criminal justice system from one that is driven by punishment and retribution to one that is centered on prevention and healing. Our initiatives are interdisciplinary and built around community collaboration. We work in partnership with schools, departments, centers and institutes across Columbia, other universities, government agencies, community organizations, advocates and those directly affected by the criminal justice system. For more information about the Center for Justice, please visit


Contacts: Dr. Joshua B. Bennett,; Nicole Delgadillo,


For more information on the June Jordan Fellowship at Columbia, including application requirements and deadlines for Spring 2017, please visit or contact Nicole Delgadillo or Dr. Joshua Bennett.



We will be live streaming the Beyond the Bars Conference Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
Livestreaming schedule below.

Thursday Night – Women Transcending the Punishment Paradigm (Event Starts at 6:30pm) Columbia Law School

Friday Night – Building the Movement: Conversations with Angela Davis (Event Starts at 7:30pm) Lerner Hall, Columbia University

Saturday: Transcending the Punishment Paradigm – Morning and Afternoon Panels (Panels start at 10am) Columbia School of Social Work

Morning Plenaries (10 -1:15)

  • Understanding the Root Causes of Violence and What Makes Communities Safe (10 – 11:30)
  • Beyond the Non, Non, Nons: Challenging the Narratives of “Violent Criminals” and “Dangerous Communities” (11:45 – 1:15)

Afternoon Plenary (2:15 – 3:45pm)

  • How do we Respond to Violence? Strategies to Transcend the Punishment Paradigm
Afternoon Breakout Session (4:00 – 5:30pm)
  • Safety and Justice Without Prison: Applying Restorative Justice to Violent Crime

Register Now! Beyond the Bars: Transcending the Punishment Paradigm


The Beyond the Bars Conference, now going into its 7th 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 the conference brings together scholars, students, activists, advocates, policy makers, government officials and those who have been directly impacted by issues of incarceration and criminalization: for four days, we work to deepen our collective analysis and develop new strategies for change. We are happy to have Angela Davis joining us in these discussions once again





Watch Now “13TH” Film Screening & Discussion – Feb. 8, 2017

“13” is an Oscar-nomintated documentary about mass incarceration in the U.S., racism, and the criminalization of African Americans, directed by Ava DuVernay (“Selma”). Discussion followed with: Professor Jelani Cobb, Columbia Journalism School Professor Geraldine Downey, Columbia University Department of Psychology, Center for Justice Professor Jeffrey A. Fagan, Columbia Law School and Mailman School of Public Health Michelle Miller (Moderator), CBS News.





Beyond the Bars Call for Artists

The Beyond the Bars Conference at Columbia University is seeking artwork in response to the theme of this year’s conference: Transcending the Punishment Paradigm. The conference will address 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?

We are asking artists to interpret and create works of art that represent the theme of Transcending the Punishment Paradigm. What would our society look like if we understood violence differently, looking at structures, environments and state violence as well as the actions of individuals? And what could it look like if all of our systems and responses were focused on prevention and healing, and on restoration and transformation of individuals and communities, instead of retribution and punishment? We invite you to answer these questions through your art.

Selected artwork will be exhibited at the Beyond the Bars Conference on March 4-5, 2017 in New York City. If you are interested in submitting your work, please read the following guidelines:


  • Sizing: Due to space limitations, art pieces must be two-dimensional and must not exceed 18” x 24”
  • Artist statements: You may submit up to two paragraphs describing each work submitted, along with a brief summary of your art experience, including education, exhibitions, art-related work experience, awards, etc.
  • Format: Submissions must be in the form of drawings, paintings, photography, or graphic deign
  • File type: All artwork must be submitted electronically in JPEG form. Selected artists will be contacted about shipping their original works to us to be displayed at the conference.
  • Shipping: Once we review your submission, you may be invited to ship your artwork to the Center for Justice at no cost to you. All work must be shipped through FedEx. Additional details will be provided when we contact you.
  • Sales: Please be advised that there will be no art dealing at the conference, so you must label your artwork and provide your contact information, website, etc. so we can direct attendees to you in order to facilitate purchases.


We are hoping to exhibit artwork by artists who are impacted by violence and/or the epidemic of incarceration, including but not limited to artists who:


  • have experienced incarceration themselves
  • have experienced incarceration through their loved ones or their communities
  • have worked within the criminal justice system
  • have other experiences related to the criminal justice system
  • have participated in activism, organizing, or advocacy work related to social justice


How to Submit:


To submit your artwork for the 2017 Beyond the Bars Conference, please email with JPEG attachments of the work, your artist statement, and your contact info. Please put “Beyond the Bars submission” as the subject heading. Please allow 2 – 3 days for a response from us regarding next steps, shipping, and additional information. The deadline to submit for artists who need to mail their art is Friday February 10th, however local artists who can bring their piece to us may submit up until Friday February 24th.


Artists who are currently incarcerated may ship their submissions directly to the Center for Justice at Columbia University at the following address and can expect to receive a reimbursement for shipping costs in the form of a money order:


1255 Amsterdam Ave, Rm 828

New York, New York 10030


We encourage submissions from artists of color, artists from the LGBTQ community, and artists whose work represents experiences and identities that are often underrepresented in the arts. We look forward to seeing your work.