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News & Events

An Act of Justice: Undoing the Legacy of Mass Incarceration Symposium

Thursday, March 30, 2017
at 7:00 PM to 3:00 PM on Saturday, April 1, 2017

View a PDF of the printed program here.

An Act of Justice: Undoing the Legacy of Mass Incarceration 
March 30-April 1, 2017
Presented in partnership with the Criminology, Law and Society Department
at the University of St. Thomas, Houston

The Rothko Chapel and University of St. Thomas hosted a three day symposium exploring the human rights issues associated with the criminal justice system in the United States. Participants learned more about the legacy of this complex system in our country and how individuals and community organizations are working together for equitable and sustainable reform.

The symposium offered workshops, panels and keynote addresses featuring academics, activists, religious leaders, artists, criminal justice reform experts, and formerly incarcerated individuals and their families.

Featured Keynote Speakers:
Professor Margaret Burnham, Northeastern University Law School
Vincent Schiraldi, Senior Research Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University

Other Presenters include: Anthony Graves, activist and Death Row Exoneree 138; Dolores Canales, co-founder of California Families  Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC); Dr. Roberto LaCarra, University of St. Thomas Criminology Department; Nicole Cásarez, University of Houston Law Center/University of St. Thomas; Rev. Ron Stief, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture; State Representative Gene Wu; Charles Rotramel, Houston reVision; Sandra Guerra Thompson, Criminal Justice Institute, University of Houston Law Center; Terri Burke, ACLU of Texas; Mimi Marziani, Texas Civil Rights Project; Jay Jenkins, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, and more. 

Also included: A powerful virtual reality experience that places viewers inside a U.S. solitary confinement prison cell will be presented by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Poetry performed by Writers in the Schools (WITS).

This symposium is generously supported by Hank Coleman, Dudley T. Dougherty Foundation, the Law Offices of Foreman, DeGeurin & DeGeurin, and an anonymous donor.

Thursday, March 30th 

7-8:30pm: "Decriminalization and Decarceration: Getting There from Here”
Keynote Address by Margaret Burnham, Northeastern University School of Law Professor
Rothko Chapel

Welcome and Overview by Daivd Leslie, Executive Director, Rothko Chapel. 

Poetry performed by Audrey M., Writers in the Schools.

Burnham will explore the legacy of mass incarceration in the United States: how we became the most incarcerated nation in the world and what it would take as a society to undo this complex system.  Burnham will discuss the realities that race, class and economics play while also lifting up some of the visionary reform efforts that are underway. The program will be followed by a reception on the Plaza.

Margaret Burnham is a Professor of Law and African-American Studies at Northeastern University School of Law. Focusing on the history of mid-20th century racial violence in the US, she studies and pursues legal and political initiatives to remedy past racial injustices, with special attention to criminal justice institutions. She is the founder and director of Northeastern’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, which has compiled the most comprehensive archive on mid-20th century racially motivated murder cases in the US. In 1993, Nelson Mandela appointed Burnham to an international human rights tribunal investigating violations in South Africa. In 2016, Burnham received the prestigious Carnegie Fellowship, awarded to “the nation’s preeminent scholars and thinkers.” 

To listen to the keynote address, click here. To watch the keynote address, click here.

Friday, March 31, 2017

8:15am: Continental Breakfast on the Rothko Chapel Plaza

9-10:30am: Morning Reflections: Personalizing the Impersonal
Rothko Chapel

This session will explore personal stories shared by individuals who have gone through the experience of arrest, incarceration, and release.

Dolores Canales, Advocate and Co-Founder of California Families Against Solitary Confinement
Michael Swayzer, Educator and Mentor
​Moderator: Rev. Ron Stief, Executive Director, National Religious Campaign Against Torture

10:45-12:00pm: From Arrest to Community Re-integration
Rothko Chapel

This session will explore the process of arrest, incarceration, and reentry through the perspective of experts working in the field, including law enforcement officers, public defenders, educators, and community service providers, who will uncover the challenges and changes being made.

Peter Bray, Assistant Federal Public Defender
Nicole Casarez, Professor, University of St. Thomas & University of Houston Law Center
Adrian Garcia, former Harris County Sheriff 
Roberta Meyers, Director, National H.I.R.E. Network of the Legal Action Center
Moderator: Terri Burke, Executive Director of the ACLU Texas

12:30pm-1:30pm: Lunch & Welcome by Dr. Roberto LaCarra
University of St. Thomas (UST)
Jerabeck Center 2nd Floor, Scanlan Room

Dr. LaCarra is the Founding Chair and Associate Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at University of St. Thomas University, Houston

1:45-3:00pm: Unique Challenges Faced by Youth and Juveniles, Women, and Families
UST, Jerabeck Center 2nd Floor, Scanlan Room

This session will explore the nuances and unique circumstances faced by incarcerated juveniles, women, and their family members.

Krishnaveni Gundu, Co-Founder, Texas Jail Project
Charles Rotramel, CEO of Houston: reVision
Sandra Guerra Thompson, Alumnae College Professor in Law and Director, Criminal Justice Institute at the University of Houston Law Center
Moderator: Dr. Helen Taylor Greene, Professor in the Administration of Justice Program at Texas Southern University in the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs

3:30-5pm: Breakout Sessions: Go Deeper, Learn More, Get Involved
Building off of the morning panel sessions, this time allow participants to choose different areas of focus to go deeper and learn more.

Featured Topics & Presenters:

Leah Garabedian, Chief Criminal Justice Strategist, Harris County Budget Management Department
UST, Crooker Center, 1st Floor: Ahearn Room

Harris County is at the national forefront of justice improvement efforts, and provides an opportunity to learn more about and go deeper into the innovative strategies being implemented to change the way we think about and use our jail to protect the public and promote fair and effective justice for all.  The Chief Criminal Justice Strategist for Harris County will provide an overview of the Safety + Justice Challenge and the County’s accomplishments to date and engage in an interactive dialogue about how justice stakeholders steer justice progress in the third largest county in America.

Disobedient Narratives: Art as a tool for Social Change
Courtney Bowles, Artist & Co-Director, The People's Paper Co-op and Mark Strandquist, Artist & Project Director, Performing Statistics
UST, Jerabeck Center, 2nd Floor: Classroom 201

How would incarcerated youth train an entire police force? How would formerly incarcerated men and women transform a city's reentry services and policies? How could shifting public perceptions help shift public policies? Mark Strandquist and Courtney Bowles have spent years answering these questions by using art as a vehicle for connecting diverse communities to amplify, celebrate, and power social justice movements. Their projects combine organizing strategies, and urgently needed services, with collaborative, poetic, and performative actions that connect diverse and often antagonistic actors (abolitionists, police departments, service providers, and those impacted by the system).

Reforming the System: Unique Challenges and Opportunities Facing Incarcerated Juveniles and Women
An interrelated presentation by Charles Rotramel, CEO, Houston: reVision, and Krishnaveni Gundu, Co-Founder, Texas Jail Project
UST, Jerabeck Center, 2nd Floor: Scanlan Room

The first part of this session will focus on how the school to prison pipeline pushes hundreds of thousands of children and youth out of classrooms, onto the street and into detention centers and prisons on a daily basis. Rotramel will uncover some of the juvenile justice and school discipline practices, how they have helped to create the era of mass incarceration, and specific solutions that are available for individuals, communities, and schools. The second part of this session will focus on the unique challenges faced by women incarcerated in jails across Texas.  Many of these institutions were designed primarily for male inmates and as a result have given rise to medical neglect, harassment, abuse and suicides. Gundu, Co-founder of the Texas Jail Project will shed light on these realities in addition to the other injustices faced by pregnant women in jail, and the advocacy efforts that are currently underway to change some of these detrimental practices. 

Set My People Free: Ending the Torture of Solitary Confinement in Prisons
Dolores Canales, Advocate and Co-Founder, California Families Against Solitary Confinement; Lance Lowry, President, AFSCME Huntsville Correctional Employees; Rev. Ron Stief, Executive Director, National Religious Campaign Against Torture
UST, Jerabeck Center, 2nd Floor: Classroom 202

It is estimated that 80,000 – 100,000 persons in our U.S. prison system are held in solitary confinement.  Up to one-third of these suffer some form of severe mental illness.  Conditions of extreme isolation – often in 6x9 cells, 23 hours a day, for weeks, months, years and even decades – are defined as torture by brain scientists, and many are calling for an end to this inhumane practice.  This includes most recently Pope Francis, President Obama, and the United Nations.  This workshop brings together three leaders in the growing national and state by state movement to Stop Solitary, sharing the perspective of state corrections, family and community coalitions, and faith leaders. 

6:15-6:45pm: Poetry and Performances by Writers in the Schools (WITS) on the Rothko Chapel Plaza
Enjoy original poems performed by Donald V., Jadon E., Jackson N., Adam M., Rukmini K., and Lyn S.

7pm-8:30pm: “Dismantling the System: What Juvenile Decarceration can Teach us About Undoing Mass Incarceration”
Keynote address by Vincent Schiraldi, Senior Research Fellow, Criminal Justice Policy and Management at Harvard University
Rothko Chapel

Using the Juvenile Justice System as a starting point, Schiraldi will uncover why the number of young people locked up has declined by more than 50% since the beginning of this millennium while adult incarceration has only flattened out. Through this exploration, Schiraldi will share some of the key elements and actions needed to decrease mass incarceration in America, and the significant role that citizens are playing to dismantle the system. 

Vincent Schiraldi is a Senior Research Fellow directing the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management at Harvard University’s Kennedy School. Schiraldi has served as founder of Justice Policy Institute, director of juvenile corrections in Washington, D.C., and Commissioner of the NYC Department of Probation. Most recently, Schiraldi served as Senior Advisor to the NYC Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. For Schiraldi, making communities safer and reducing crime means improving fairness in the system and developing opportunities in poor communities. He pioneered efforts at community-based alternatives to incarceration with the YouthLink initiative in D.C., and in NYC with the NeON network and the Close to Home program. 

To listen to the keynote address, click here. To watch the keynote address, click here.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

8:15am: Continental Breakfast on the Rothko Chapel plaza

9-10:30am: Morning Reflections: Rituals of Reentry and the Importance of Community
Rothko Chapel

This session will explore how to maintain a sense of hope, resiliency, and spirit while incarcerated. This will be a reflective session for participants to focus on our collective responsibility to welcome back and support formerly incarcerated people into community and explore rituals of reentry.

Christie Carrington, Myoken-Ji, Temple / Nichiren Buddhist Sangha of Texas 
Anthony Graves, activist, Death Row Exoneree 138, and Founder, Anthony Graves Foundation
Moderator: David Leslie, Executive Director, Rothko Chapel

11:00am-12:15pm: Alternatives to Incarceration and Reform Efforts
UST, Jerabeck Center 2nd Floor, Scanlan Room

This session will focus on alternatives to incarceration and reform efforts, highlighting how certain programs, such as the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program in Seattle, have gained traction as a way for municipalities to reduce recidivism rates and costs. This panel will discuss the future of de-incarceration and potential programs that may help further reduce incarceration in America.

Chief (Ret.) Brendan Cox, Director, Policing Strategies, LEAD National Support Bureau
Kathryn Griffin Griñán, Recovery Coach & Peer-To-Peer Counselor 
Hon. Brock Thomas, Harris County District Court – Reintegration Court (RIC)
Moderator: Jay Jenkins: Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Harris County Project Attorney

12:30-2pm: Legislative and Public Policy Perspectives Lunch Panel
UST, Jerabeck Center 2nd Floor, Scanlan Room

This session will feature Texas policy makers with a focus on Texas legislation and current reform efforts occurring in the state.

Marc A. Levin, Director of the Center for Effective Justice & Right on Crime at the Texas Public Policy Foundation
Sandra Guerra Thompson, Alumnae College Professor in Law and Director of the Criminal Justice Institute at the University of Houston Law Center
State Rep. Gene Wu, District 137
Moderator: Mimi Marziani, TX Civil Rights Project

Poetry performed by Bashma K., Writers in the Schools.

2:15-3:30pm: Looking Forward
UST, Jerabeck Center 2nd Floor, Scanlan Room

This session will reflect on the range of topics covered in the three day symposium.
Dr. Roberto La Carra, Founding Director and Associate Professor of the University of St. Thomas’ Criminology, Law and Society program
David Leslie, Executive Director, Rothko Chapel

event location

  • Rothko Chapel and University of St. Thomas

event contact