March 17, 2022

In January, Summer Search presented Criminal Justice Solutionsthe fourth iteration of Championing for Justice and Equity (CJE), a three-year conversation on race, justice, and systemic inequity.

Expanding on our 2021 conversations about advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace and closing racial gaps in education, we turned our focus to Criminal Justice Solutions.

From wrongful convictions, to racially-biased enforcement of policies and power, to redefining our understanding of safety and harm, our panel of legal, government, and social justice experts discussed the vast racial disparities throughout America's criminal justice system.

They also examined ways that as a community and country we can move from "applying criminal solutions to social problems," as Louis L. Reed put it, towards finding restorative ways for those that cause harm to be "held accountable and held in community," as Zach Norris said.

We invite you to watch the full conversation and read the recommendations and resources below. Stay tuned for our next event, Advancing Equity in American Healthcare, Part 1 (April 26, 2022).

The Conversation

  • 01:00 – 03:08: Welcome – Tom Cole

  • 03:09 – 05:06: Panel Introductions - Rehema Ellis

  • 05:07 – 10:22: Zach Norris

  • 10:27 – 15:40: Louis L. Reed

  • 15:55 – 21:30: Lara Zarowsky

  • 22:00 – 1:01:07: Panel Discussion

  • 1:01:08 - 1:04:00: Closing - Tom Cole
Criminal Justice Solutions Speakers

Excerpt from our Criminal Justice Solutions event illustration. Click to view full-sized graphic.

Read, Watch, Explore: Our Panel & Their Work

As our moderator Rehema Ellis, Chief Education Correspondent at NBC News, stated at the conclusion of the robust conversation:
"If there's one takeaway, take away each of the names of the folks on this panel. Connect with them; they've got answers to some of the problems that are going on in our criminal justice system."

Zach Norris

"The criminal justice system is supposed to produce safety... When you treat people with dignity, when you treat people with respect, that is actually positive and beneficial to community safety."

Zach Norris is an artist, writer, organizer, strategist, father, and Summer Search Bay Area alumnus.

In his years as the Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, his work centered on creating solutions for one of the biggest drivers of injustice today: mass incarceration.

That solution is known as Restorative Justice, a way to shift resources away from prisons and punishment, and towards opportunities that make our communities safe, healthy, and strongOn the legislation front, Zach helped build California's first statewide network for families of incarcerated youth which led the effort to close five youth prisons in the state.

Read: In Zach's book Defund Fear: Safety Without Policing, Prisons, and Punishment, he lays out a blueprint for evolving the idea of public safety toward growth and support systems for families and communities.

Watch: Zach breaks down Community Safety and Restorative Justice >>

Explore: Zach and the Ella Baker Center also created Restore Oakland, a community-centered space where those harmed by racial inequities have opportunities to heal and create a shared vision for community safety and economic empowerment.

Louis L. Reed

"Technical violations send more than 14,000 people back into custody every single day... Being on supervision is a nightmare that makes Elm Street look like Sesame Street."

Louis L. Reed is the Senior Director of Membership & Partnerships at the REFORM Alliance. He has extensive experience in government, policy advocacy, public health, and personal impact, serving nearly 14 years in federal prison and several years on supervision.

At REFORM, Louis (along with popular culture figures like Meek Mill,

Van Jones, Jay-Z, Robert Kraft, Priscilla Chan
, and more) works to transform probation and parole by changing laws, systems, and culture to create real pathways to work and wellbeing, instead of keeping people trapped in a revolving door from probation/parole to prison — which costs taxpayers billions of dollars.

Prior to joining REFORM, Louis was the Director of National Organizing & Partnerships for Dream Corps JUSTICE (formerly #cut50), where he grew the nation’s largest bi-partisan grassroots advocacy and organizing coalition through the Empathy Network.

Louis's policy reform experience includes leading advocacy for the historic First Step Act, and working with the Connecticut legislature for successful enactment of legislation related to expanding access to licenses for people living with criminal records and strengthening reentry practices and services for people returning from prison.

Read: REFORM lays out the Probation and Parole Trap.

Watch: Louis discusses the "Collateral Consequences" of a criminal conviction, including what he calls the "New PTSD: Prison Traumatic Stress Disorder".

Explore: REFORM provides details and context to their various Legislative wins across the country.

Prison to Freedom Pipeline from REFORM Alliance

Solutions for improving the Prison-to-Freedom Pipeline from REFORM Alliance.

Lara Zarowsky

"The lens of wrongful criminal convictions is a way of seeing just how broken the system truly is."

Lara Zarowsky is the Executive Director of the Washington Innocence Project, an organization that provides free legal services to men and women in Washington State who have been wrongfully convicted. They also help prevent wrongful convictions through education and policy reform, and support exonerees and freed individuals as they rebuild their lives in freedom.

Lara was also a faculty member of the University of Washington School of Law and established the Washington Innocence Project track of the Legislative Advocacy Clinic, which she directed from 2014 to 2019. Her clinic students championed a 2013 law to compensate Washington’s wrongly convicted, a 2015 law to preserve biological evidence collected from crime scenes, and a 2019 law to establish and implement best practices for gathering eyewitness and incentivized witness evidence.

Read: The causes of wrongful convictions (such as police and prosecutor misconduct, false confessions, racism and implicit bias, and more) and some of the sobering stats behind each.

Watch: Lara's TEDx Talk >> 

Explore: The Innocence Network put together a robust list of stories - from movies, TV shows, books, podcasts, and more - to deepen our understanding about wrongful convictions.

Racism and Implicit Bias stats in wrongful convictions.

Sobering statistics regarding Racism and Implicit Bias in wrongful convictions, from the Washington Innocence Project.

In closing, our host Tom Cole Managing Partner at Troutman Pepper Law Firm (and Summer Search Philadelphia Board Member), put it simply: "We heard so much today, and there's so much to do. Let's not do nothing. Let's do something."

Criminal Justice Solutions Event Illustration

Our full Criminal Justice Solutions event illustration. Click to view full-sized graphic.

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