The COVID-19 public health crisis has created a “natural experiment” in policing and criminal justice policy as cities and states struggle to deal with the pandemic in jails and prisons. At the same time, the people's revolt in response to the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade have brought new attention to racism in policing and put added pressure on our lawmakers and institutions. This is a moment of opportunity in the long movement to end mass incarceration and secure equal justice, but also a moment of obvious threat to incarcerated people, their families and their communities.
Following on from our recent roundtable on criminal justice reform in New York, this event will bring together Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director of Alliance of Families for Justice, Michael Romano, the director and founder of the Three Strikes and Justice Advocacy Projects at Stanford Law School, Vincent Schiraldi, Senior Research Scientist at the Columbia School of Social Work and co-Director of the Columbia Justice Lab, and Nicholas Turner, President and Director of the Vera Institute of Justice, to discuss reform from a national perspective. Adander Usmani, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Social Studies at Harvard University and co-author of “The Economic Origins of Mass Incarceration,” will frame and moderate the discussion.
This event will be streamed live from BPL's YouTube channel and on this page. Please register an sign up to receive news about other BPL virtual programming.
Soffiyah Elijah is the Executive Director of Alliance of Families for Justice (AFJ). Established in 2016 in NY, its mission is to support families of incarcerated people and people with criminal records, empower them as advocates and mobilize them to marshal their voting power to achieve systemic change. Prior to founding AFJ, Ms. Elijah was the Executive Director of the Correctional Association of NY (CANY) where she was the first woman and the first person of color to lead the 170 year old organization. Ms. Elijah has dedicated her life to human rights and social justice, and is a frequent presenter at national and international forums on criminal justice policy and human rights issues. Prior to leading CANY Ms. Elijah served as Deputy Director and Clinical Instructor at the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard Law School. Before moving to Harvard, she was a member of the faculty and Director and Supervising Attorney of the Defender Clinic at the City University of New York School of Law. Ms. Elijah has also worked as a Supervising Attorney at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, a Staff Attorney at the Juvenile Rights Division of the Legal Aid Society, and in private practice.
Michael Romano is the director and founder of the Three Strikes and Justice Advocacy Projects at Stanford Law School. Previously, he was director of the Stanford Criminal Defense Clinic. He currently teaches criminal justice policy and advanced criminal litigation practice and has published several scholarly and popular press articles on criminal law, sentencing policy, prisoner reentry and recidivism, and mental illness in the justice system. In 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Michael as chairperson of California’s new criminal law and policy committee, the Penal Code Revision Committee. As counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Michael co-authored successful statewide ballot measures in California, the Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012 (“Proposition 36”) and Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act of 2014 (“Proposition 47”), which together resulted in reduced sentences for over 10,000 inmates. Michael also founded the Ride Home prisoner reentry program, which has assisted formerly incarcerated inmates in 38 states and in 2015 partnered with Obama administration and U.S. Dept. of Justice in support of the president’s executive clemency initiative. With assistance from his students, Michael represents incarcerated individuals and engages in impact litigation in state and federal courts, winning the reversal of numerous life sentences and new opportunities for early parole for thousands of nonviolent prisoners. He has been named one of California’s top lawyers and his work has been profiled in several news outlets, including The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, The Economist, and the award-winning PBS feature documentary The Return. Michael graduated with honors from Stanford Law School and was a John Knight Fellow at Yale Law School. He clerked on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Vincent Schiraldi is a Senior Research Scientist at the Columbia School of Social Work and co-Director of the Columbia Justice Lab. He has extensive experience in public life, founding the policy think tank, the Justice Policy Institute, then moving to government as director of the juvenile corrections in Washington DC, as Commissioner of the New York City Department of Probation, and Senior Policy Adviser to the NYC Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice. Schiraldi gained a national reputation as a fearless reformer who emphasized the humane and decent treatment of the men, women, and children under his correctional supervision. He pioneered efforts at community-based alternatives to incarceration in NYC and Washington DC. Schiraldi received an MSW from New York University, and a Bachelor of Arts from Binghamton University.
Nicholas Turner has been president and director of the Vera Institute of Justice since 2013. Under his leadership, Vera has identified core priorities of ending the misuse of jails, transforming conditions of confinement, and ensuring that justice systems more effectively serve America's growing minority communities. Vera is also using new tools and leveraging its half-century of experience working on the frontlines of justice to shape public debate at a time when interest in justice is at a new height. Nick has contributed op-eds to the New York Times; USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, and is regularly interviewed by media. Most recently, he joined Bryan Stevenson, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and musician and activist John Legend as part of an NBC News Town Hall with Lester Holt, held with staff, residents and guests at Sing Sing prison in Westchester County. Nick came to Vera from the Rockefeller Foundation, where he was a managing director. He previously served as vice president and chief program officer at Vera. Prior to his work with Vera, he was an associate in the litigation department of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and a judicial clerk for the Honorable Jack B. Weinstein, Senior United States District Judge in Brooklyn. He is a member of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform and the Advisory Board to New York City’s Children’s Cabinet, and has served on the boards of National Council on Crime and Delinquency, Living Cities, and the Center for Working Families. He received his BA and JD from Yale.
Adaner Usmani is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Social Studies at Harvard University. His research is driven by two questions: Why do some people flourish while others suffer? And, what explains why, in some places but not others, movements or policies emerge to challenge or moderate this inequality? In one project, he explores when and why ordinary individuals manage to coordinate collective action, and how well these patterns explain the forward march of democracy and the extent of economic redistribution. In a different project, he studies the origins and consequences of American mass incarceration. Most of his work uses computational and quantitative methods, but he retains a keen interest in the comparative historical method, and in qualitative social science more generally.