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Author: Kayleen Jones

WPR’s “Chapter a Day” Reads Just Mercy

Starting Monday October 19th – Friday November 6th, Lydia Woodland of Wisconsin Public Radio, is reading a chapter of Just Mercy each day as part of the “Chapter a Day” program.  According to the WPR’s website, “Chapter a Day” is WPR’s longest running program. It debuted in 1927. Hosts of the program read a chapter of a book each day. They read entire books in half hour segments.

Listen to “Chapter a Day” by clicking here.

Just Mercy in the Community

Monday October 12th, 200+ people attended “And Justice for All: A Community Panel Discussion” hosted by Middleton Public Library. The audience was made up of community members, including many staff from the Middleton Cross Plains Area School District. The discussion panel was made up of six members: Dan Mahoney (Dane County Sheriff), Dr. Ruben Anthony (Urban League of Greater Madison CEO), Josann Reynolds (Dane County Judge), Percy Brown (Director of Equity, Middleton Cross Plains Area School District), Chuck Foulke (Middleton Police Chief), and a Middleton High School Student Voice Union member.

Community members attending Just Mercy discussion Panel

Community members attending Just Mercy discussion panel

The panel discussion began by reading the passage in Just Mercy where Stevenson talks about his unprovoked encounter with the police outside his apartment in Atlanta (pages 39-42). The panel discussed how Stevenson’s experience relates to the Middleton area and Dane County.

The discussion also focused on kids in the community and how themes in the book may effect them.  Many shared and agreed that the first step is building stronger relationships with the police, within the community, and with your neighbors.

To find out about upcoming Just Mercy discussions, visit our events page here.


Business Students Create Just Mercy Themed Art at Wheelhouse Studios


Today and tomorrow a business class will be meeting in Wheelhouse Studios to create art-based learning projects focused on the book Just Mercy. Wheelhouse Studios is an open art studio located in Memorial Union. Its website describes the art studio as “three versatile workspaces, flexible studio designs, drop-in art opportunities, and classes for enthusiasts and dabblers alike, it’s easy to sign up and get involved.”

Four sections of a 120 student class will go to Wheelhouse Studios to create screen printed posters that they co-designed in small groups around themes of leadership, mental health, and humility from Just Mercy. Each student will get a copy of their poster and a set of the student created posters will be on display to the public at Grainger Hall sometime in upcoming weeks. Two examples of the student posters can be seen on the right side of this post.

Crime&PunishmentPosterWhile at Wheelhouse Studios students will also construct handmade, saddle-stitched notebooks and journals that will be donated to Wisconsin Books for Prisoners and the LGBT Books to Prisoners Project.

For more information about Wheelhouse Studios click here.

For more information about Wisconsin Books for Prisoners click here.

For more information about LGBT Books to Prisoners Project click here.

A New Politics of Human Rights

On November 5th-7th, at the Pyle Center, UW Madison is hosting a conference about human rights. Sponsors of the event include the UW-Madison Human Rights Program, UW Madison Go Big Read Program, Global Legal Studies Center, LACIS, UW Law School, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, and the Center for South Asia. According the the event’s website, the conference, A New Politics of Human Rights: Crossing Disciplines, Regions, and Issues, was planned with the questions listed below in mind.

  • What concepts may usefully undergird an ever-growing and more heterogeneous field of study and practice in a twenty-first century world?
  • If human rights comes to stand for “everything” (every right is fundamental and rooted in the human), does it come to stand for nothing and undermine its premise? Put differently, if human rights becomes a standard language of law and accountability policy, and a standard language of moral claim and political mobilization, does it lose its counter-hegemonic potential?

The conference is free and open to the UW Madison community, community members, and anyone interested in human rights. The conference coordinators ask that attendees register by October 23rd. Walk-ins are also welcome. To register click here.

For more information about the event, including a draft of the conference schedule, click here.

For more information about the Human Rights Program at UW Madison click here.

New Film, Human, features Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson is featured in the recent film, Human. The film was created by French photographer, journalist, and environmentalist Yann Arthus-Bertrand. The film is a collection of stories from individuals from around the world about their human experience.  Bryan Stevenson is one of those individuals.

In his segment, Stevenson talks about race, poverty, and the death penalty. He speaks poignantly about his experience with people on death row and how that experience has taught him that no one is beyond redemption. He says: “I’ve met a lot of people who may never get out, they may always be a threat to themselves or others, but I’ve never met anyone I could say was beyond redemption, beyond hope, beyond the possibility of restoration.”

Watch his segment below.

The film was released for free and can be watched on YouTube by clicking here.

To learn more about the film click here.

Death Penalty Sentences Concentrated to a Few Counties in the U.S.

twopercent1According the the Death Penalty Information Center’s recent report, “Death Sentences Drop in Three High-Use Counties As Prosecutors Change,” as of 2013, 56 percent of death sentences were given out in only 2 percent of U.S. counties. However, due to recent District Attorney changes in three counties that were included in that 2 percent, the number of annual death sentences is noticeably declining.  The three counties highlighted in this report from DPIC are Harris County, Texas, Oklahoma County, Oklahoma, and Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. Since the DA changes, Harris County went from 12 death sentences per year to just 1 per year. Oklahoma County went from more than 2 death sentences a year to only 3 in the past 6 years. And Philadelphia County went from more than 9 death sentences per year to only 3 in the past 5 years. The report stresses the impact that individual prosecutors have had in these “high-use” counties.

Watch the 2013 video, created by the DPIC, below explaining how 2 percent of counties produce the majority of death sentences in the U.S.

To read “Death Sentences Drop in Three High-Use Counties As Prosecutors Change” click here.

To read “Why Three Counties That Loved the Death Penalty Have Almost Stopped Pursuing It,” from the Marshall Project, click here.

To read the 2013 executive summary of the report “How a Minority of Counties Produce Most Cases at Enormous Cost to All” click here.

Just Mercy Reaches Local Police

Madison’s local CBS affiliate, WISC-TV3, posted a video editorial about UW-Madison’s Go Big Read program. Editorial director, Neil Heinen, had this to say about the selection of Just Mercy as the 2015-2016 common read: “It was a wise choice for the book program. It was a wiser choice for Chiefs Riseling and Koval to take advantage of the Big Read in their departments. And yes, it is another example of the Wisconsin Idea.”

Watch the editorial below.

For a transcript of the editorial click here.

San Quentin State Prison and the Prison University Project

A recent NPR story, “Why aren’t there more higher ed programs behind bars?” by Eric Westervelt, highlights the Prison University Project (PUP) at San Quentin State Prison in California. The privately funded program helps inmates attain associate’s degrees. Over 100 instructors from higher education institutions across California donate their time to teach college courses at San Quentin. The inmates pay no tuition or fees and the PUP program provides all necessary materials such as books and writing utensils. Since 1996 140 inmates have earned degrees.

Jerome Boone, a current student of the PUP program, had this to say about the program: “the better we do in here, the better we are when we exit,” he says. “If we come in here and just stay the people we are when we come in, you know, without any growth or insight or any opportunity to better ourselves, we’re gonna get out that same person.”

PUP executive director, Jody Lewen, says that statistics confirm Boone’s comment. According to Lewen, in California, 65% released prisoners return to prison within three years. For PUP participants, only 17% return to prison, and none have returned for violent crime.

Some advocates for higher education in prisons argue that small investments save money in the long run. In the article, Lois Davis, a researcher for the RAND Corporation, explains that her research “has found that participation in any level of education behind bars reduced risk of being re-incarcerated by 13 percent.” She goes on to say that “for every dollar invested in a prison education program it will ultimately save taxpayers between four and five dollars in re-incarceration costs.”

The video below profiles the PUP Program.

To read “Why aren’t there more higher ed programs behind bars?” click here.

To read about the Prison University Project click here.

A Look at Solitary Confinement in the United States

A guard handcuffed a prisoner in his cell in the secured housing unit at Pelican Bay State Prison in California before opening the door. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

A guard handcuffed a prisoner in his cell in the secured housing unit at Pelican Bay State Prison in California before opening the door. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

A recent New York Times article, “Solitary Confinement: Punished for Life,” by Erica Goode, profiles the work of Craig Haney, a professor of psychology at the University of California Santa Cruz, and his work interviewing people who have been in solitary confinement in American prisons. Dr. Haney is the first person to study Americans who have been in solitary confinement for a significant amount of their adult lives.

The study includes interviews with 56 prisoners who spent 10-28 years on solitary confinement. His study offers insight into what long term solitary confinement does to mental health. While conducting interviews Haney was struck with the profound sadness of the inmates and concludes that long term solitary confinement leads to “social death.” He partially attributes what he calls “social death” to inmates in solitary confinement not being allowed to make personal phone calls and not being allowed any physical contact with visitors.

Approximately 75,000 American inmates are currently held in solitary confinement. Goode notes in her article that states are starting to reduce the number of people in solitary confinement due to public opinion, budgetary constraints, and lawsuits.

To read “Solitary Confinement: Punished for Life” click here.

Second Chance Pell Pilot Program for Incarcerated Individuals

Image from: Equal Justice Initiative

Image from: Equal Justice Initiative

At the end of July, the U.S. Department of Education announced that some incarcerated Americans will once again have the opportunity to be eligible for Pell Grants. In 1994 federal student aid for people in prison was cut, despite research that shows that education programs in prisons reduce recidivism rates. According to a 2013 study, funded by the Department of Justice, those who participated in correctional education were 43% less likely to go back to prison after being released for three years, than those who had no correctional education. The Second Chance Pell Pilot Program will test ways to help incarcerated individuals receive Pell Grants and pursue secondary education.

For more information, read the press release from the Department of Education here.

To read the Equal Justice Initiative’s post about this click here.