Transformative Criminal Justice Reform: Where Do We Go from Here?
September 25, 2020
What’s next for criminal justice reform? What will it take for the United States to truly grapple with its long history of racial injustice?
What’s next for criminal justice reform — and what will it take for the United States to truly grapple with its long history of racial injustice? Our panel discussed potential courses of action during a pivotal time — after months of renewed racial reckoning, amid a public health crisis that has disproportionately impacted Black and Latino Americans, and before a critical national election.
Panelists included Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color Of Change; Bruce Western, author of the award-winning book Punishment and Inequality in America; Topeka Sam, founder and executive director of Ladies of Hope Ministries; and Lauren-Brooke Eisen, director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program. They joined legal expert and MSNBC contributor Melissa Murray.
Keynote by Laura Arnold
Laura and her husband John established the Laura and John Arnold Foundation in 2010. They believe philanthropy should be transformational and should seek through innovation to solve persistent problems in society. As co-founders, Laura and John actively engage in the organization’s overall direction and daily execution. Laura is an attorney and a former oil company executive. John is an investor. They have three children and reside in Houston, Texas
Lauren-Brooke Eisen, Director, Justice Program, Brennan Center for Justice
Lauren-Brooke Eisen is director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program where she leads the organization’s work to end mass incarceration. Her team focuses on exposing the profound social and economic hardships that impact those who encounter the justice system while creating policies that ultimately shrink its size and scope.
Eisen has authored several nationally recognized reports and articles on how to reduce America’s reliance on incarceration. Her work has been featured in media outlets across the country, including the New York Times, USA Today, Time, U.S. News & World Report, the Daily News, and the Marshall Project and has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, CBS News, NBC News, Fox News, National Public Radio, as well as many other television and radio news programs.
Eisen is the author of Inside Private Prisons: An American Dilemma in the Age of Mass Incarceration (Columbia University Press, 2017) and a Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting journalism grantee. She has served on the Advisory Council of the New York City Bar’s Task Force on Mass Incarceration and the transition committee for Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez. She currently serves on the advisory board of the Prosecutor Project, which seeks to develop more effective and efficient prosecutorial practices and serves as a training and curriculum advisor for Fair and Just Prosecution. In 2020, Eisen became a founding member of the Council on Criminal Justice, which works to advance understanding of the criminal justice policy choices facing the nation and build consensus for solutions that enhance safety and justice for all. Eisen taught an undergraduate seminar on mass incarceration at Yale University and served as an adjunct instructor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Before joining the Brennan Center, Eisen was a senior program associate at the Vera Institute of Justice, where she worked on the sentencing and corrections team to implement policies in multiple states to improve public safety while reducing prison populations. She also previously served as an assistant district attorney in New York City, where she worked in the Appeals Bureau, the Criminal Court Bureau, and the Sex Crimes Special Victims Bureau. Before entering law school, Eisen worked as a beat reporter for a daily newspaper in Laredo, Texas, covering criminal justice and immigration. Eisen holds an AB from Princeton University and a JD from the Georgetown University Law Center.
Rashad Robinson, President, Color Of Change
Rashad Robinson is President of Color Of Change, a leading online racial justice organization. Driven by 1.7 million members working to build political and cultural power for Black communities, Color Of Change is creating a more human and less hostile world for all people in America.
Color Of Change uses an innovative combination of technology, research, media savvy and local community engagement to build powerful movements and change the industries that affect Black people’s lives: in Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Wall Street, Washington, prosecutor offices, capitol hills and city halls around the country.
Rashad has led the organization in developing cutting-edge strategies to accelerate reform in the criminal justice system and win justice for its victims, increase electoral participation, cut off corporate support for right-wing organizations, and change the representation of Black people and social issues in news and entertainment media.
Notable victories include redefining the role of local prosecutors, moving over a dozen prosecutors and candidates to reduce mass incarceration and police violence through changes in practice and policy such as ending money bail; forcing over 100 corporations to pull out of the secretive right-wing policy shop, ALEC, following the murder of Trayvon Martin; successfully pressuring corporate leaders to abandon the Trump Business Council and stop enabling the growth of white nationalist groups through their services; framing and winning the federal protection of net neutrality as a key civil rights issue; changing hiring practices in Hollywood, as well as the representation of both race and the criminal justice system; working with Airbnb, Google and Facebook to identify and implement policies for diversity in hiring, eliminate racist and inaccurate content from their platforms and prevent predatory advertising; and forcing Pat Buchanan and Bill O’Reilly off the air.
Under Rashad’s leadership, Color Of Change has grown by a million members and dozens of staff, expanded to four offices across the country and has exponentially increased pathways for people to pursue racial justice, including cultural influencers and industry insiders.
Successful Color Of Change strategies have been profiled in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, Fast Company, Wired and The Hollywood Reporter, and on CNN, NPR, PBS, BET and MSNBC. Rashad has appeared in hundreds of articles and op-eds in major national and local news sources, and is a regular keynote speaker at events across the country.
In 2015, Fast Company named Color Of Change the 6th Most Innovative Company in the world, and named Color Of Change the 2nd Most Innovative Company in the nonprofit sector in 2018. In 2016, the Stanford Social Innovation Review profiled Color Of Change for its integrated online/offline strategies, “pursuing the fight for racial justice at Internet speed.”
Previously, Rashad served as Senior Director of Media Programs at GLAAD, leading all of the organization’s advocacy, strategic research, messaging and large-scale media campaigns. These winning culture change and narrative change initiatives helped transform the media landscape, successfully paving the way for broad acceptance and justice for LGBTQ people.
Rashad has been recognized as someone to watch by the Ebony Power 100, The Root 100 and Crain’s New York Business 40 under 40. He is the proud recipient of awards from organizations as varied as ADCOLOR, the United Church of Christ and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Foundation. Rashad serves on the board of the Hazen Foundation.
Topeka K. Sam, Founder and Executive Director, The Ladies of Hope Ministries (The LOHM)
Topeka K. Sam is the Founder and Executive Director of The Ladies of Hope Ministries – The LOHM – whose mission is to help disenfranchised and marginalized women and girls transition back into society through resources and access to high-quality education, entrepreneurship, spiritual empowerment, advocacy and housing. She is also the co-founder of HOPE HOUSE NYC – a safe housing space for women and girls. Topeka serves on the board of directors for Grassroots Leadership and is now the first formerly incarcerated person on the board of The Marshall Project. She is a Beyond the Bars 2015 Fellow and a 2016 Justice-In-Education Scholar both from Columbia University, a 2017 Soros Justice Advocacy Fellow working on Probation and Parole Accountability, a 2018 Unlocked Futures Inaugural Cohort Member, 2018 Opportunity Agenda Communications Institute Fellow, Director of #Dignity Campaign for #cut50, Host of “The Topeka K. Sam Show” on SiriusXM UrbanView Channel 126 Sundays 9am est. and has recently signed a development deal as Executive Producer for a scripted and unscripted series inspired by her fight to change the many problems that plague female incarceration with 44 blue productions.
Topeka has been featured in Vogue, SalonTV, Vice, New York Times, CNN and MSNBC. She has been featured in Glamour Magazine and Black Enterprise for being “The Black Woman behind the video that led to the Trump Clemency of Alice Johnson.” She has spoken at the 2018 United States of the Woman Conference, 2018 Women in the World Conference, 2018 White House Prison Reform Summit and is a TedxMidAtlantic Superheros Presenter.
She has worked and continues to work selflessly and relentlessly in her fight for the dignity, decriminalization and decarceration of women and girls. Topeka has accomplished this and more since her release from Federal Prison May 2015.
Bruce Western, Bryce Professor of Sociology and Social Justice and Co-Director, Justice Lab at Columbia University; Author of the award-winning book Punishment and Inequality in America
Bruce Western is the Bryce Professor of Sociology and Social Justice and Co-Director of the Justice Lab at Columbia University. His research has examined the causes, scope, and consequences of the historic growth in U.S. prison populations. Current projects include a randomized experiment assessing the effects of criminal justice fines and fees on misdemeanor defendants in Oklahoma City, and a field study of solitary confinement in Pennsylvania state prisons. Western is also the Principal Investigator of the Square One Project that aims re-imagine the public policy response to violence under conditions of poverty and racial inequality. He was the Vice Chair of the National Academy of Sciences panel on the causes and consequences of high incarceration rates in the United States. He is the author of Homeward: Life in the Year After Prison (Russell Sage Foundation, 2018), and Punishment and Inequality in America (Russell Sage Foundation, 2006). He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Russell Sage Foundation Visiting Scholar, and a fellow of the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study. Western received his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and was born in Canberra, Australia.
Melissa Murray, Frederick I. and Grace Stokes Professor of Law, NYU School of Law
Melissa Murray is a leading expert in family law, constitutional law, and reproductive rights and justice. Murray’s award-winning research focuses on the legal regulation of intimate life and encompasses such topics as the regulation of sex and sexuality, marriage and its alternatives, the marriage equality debate, the legal recognition of caregiving, and reproductive rights and justice. Her publications have appeared in the California Law Review, Columbia Law Review, Harvard Law Review, Michigan Law Review, Pennsylvania Law Review, Virginia Law Review, and Yale Law Journal, among others. She is an author of Cases on Reproductive Rights and Justice, the first casebook to cover the field of reproductive rights and justice, and a co-editor of Reproductive Rights and Justice Stories.
Murray has written for popular publications like the New York Times, the Washington Post, Newsweek, and The Nation, and has offered commentary for numerous media outlets, including NPR, CNN, ABC, MSNBC, and PBS.
Murray is an honors graduate of the University of Virginia, where she was a Jefferson Scholar and an Echols Scholar, and Yale Law School, where she was notes development editor of the Yale Law Journal. Following law school, Murray clerked for Sonia Sotomayor, then of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and Stefan Underhill of the US District Court for the District of Connecticut. She is a member of the New York bar and the American Law Institute.
Prior to joining the NYU faculty, Murray was on the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, where she was the recipient of the Rutter Award for Teaching Distinction. From March 2016 to June 2017, she served as interim dean of the Berkeley Law.