July 16, 2020

Race in America: Prison Reform with Common, Scott Budnick and Jarrett Harper

Prisons have become hotbeds for COVID-19 with over 50,000 cases recorded since June 30. Cramped conditions and limited access to soap and masks, as well as overtaxed medical facilities, have left the incarcerated exceedingly vulnerable. Rates of infection continue to rise. This crisis has increased the urgency of prison reform advocates pushing for humane practices across the criminal justice system. On Thursday, July 16 at 3:00 p.m. ET., artist and activist Common joins Washington Post Live to talk about his efforts to increase awareness around prison reform. “Just Mercy” executive producer and founder of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Scott Budnick, and campaign ambassador for Represent Justice, Jarrett Harper, will also join the program to discuss the grave impact of the pandemic on U.S. prisons. Washington Post columnist Michele Norris will moderate both conversations.
Highlights
Common has long been involved in social justice issues, but he says it wasn’t until he read ‘The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness’ and had a conversation with its author, Michelle Alexander, that he developed a specific interest in prison reform ‘I’m really passionate about this. I feel like the way our society looks at those who are overlooked or the way we treat those in prison is the way we actually treat ourselves.’
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Common’s work in criminal justice reform often focuses on juveniles who have found themselves in the system. He says juvenile justice reform is important because young people who make mistakes deserve a second chance. ‘When you’re young and in a difficult situation, it’s hard to make good choices...We have to give our young people better opportunities to live and to correct themselves.’
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Common on protests against brutality: 'I feel like so many more people are feeling responsible'
When asked whether he's concerned that today's protests against racism are a moment, not a movement, Common said he doesn't think the movement will stop. "I feel like so many more people are feeling responsible...It's not going to stop."
Represent Justice Campaign Ambassador Jarrett Harper, who served 20 years behind bars, says conditions inside prisons make measures like social distancing impossible. ‘Spaces are confined. There’s no way to possibly social distance. It’s a community-based environment. You share water faucets. You share the shower. You share the phone.’
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Prisons have become hotbeds for the coronavirus, with at least 57,000 cases recorded since March. “Just Mercy” executive producer Scott Budnick says governments should release prisoners who are not a danger to the community to help stop the spread of the virus. ‘So many people are in prison not because we’re scared of them but because we’re just mad at them. They pose no danger, but there are people who are just mad at them.’
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Represent Justice Campaign Ambassador Jarrett Harper says three things a formerly incarcerated person needs to reintegrate into society is housing, an increase in the funds they’re given when they’re released, and a fair chance when it comes to employment.
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Common
Artist and Activist
Academy Award, Golden Globe, Emmy and Grammy-winning artist, actor, author, and activist, Common continues to break down barriers with a multitude of critically acclaimed, diverse roles, and continued success in all aspects of his career. For the past few years, Common has dedicated countless hours and has been deeply engaged in social justice and advocacy work around mass incarceration, mental health and voting. After the success and impact of his Imagine Justice concert in 2017 and his Hope & Redemption Tour to eight different prisons, Common decided to establish and launch Imagine Justice as a new nonprofit in 2018. Centered at the intersection of art and activism, Imagine Justice is dedicated to leveraging the power of art to advocate for communities around the country, to fight for justice and equality and to stand united against injustice wherever it appears. Through his Common Ground Foundation, Common is dedicated to empowering high school students from underserved communities to become future leaders. The foundation operates educational programs in Chicago that focus on character development, healthy living, financial literacy, social impact, technology, and leadership. The programs include mentoring and college readiness, summer camp, and an annual Youth Business and Leadership Conference. The foundation students have a 100% graduation rate from high school.
Scott Budnick
Founder, Anti-Recidivism Coalition
Scott Budnick was a successful Hollywood producer, best known for executive producing the Hangover series as well as the Bryan Stevenson film, Just Mercy. In 2012, at the peak of his success he left the film business to start the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), a non-profit organization that provides a support network for the formerly incarcerated. He was named California's Volunteer of the Year. He and his org have pushed through game-changing legislative bills (such as Prop 57 which expanded CA’s rehabilitation in prisons), four bills that require the Board of Parole Hearings to conduct youth offender parole hearings for people sentenced to prison who committed the crime when they were children or young adults (20,000 people impacted). Budnick’s experience in the philanthropic space taught him that the most effective way to create systemic and policy change was through empathetic storytelling. In January 2018, he stepped back into the world of Hollywood with the creation of One Community, a company he created with the aspirational goal of uniquely merging his background in storytelling and impact to effect positive social change on an even greater scale. With the intention to bring diverse voices on any particular issue to the table, One Community works closely with some of the most influential voices in the political, film, sports and entertainment spaces (the Obamas, Common, Michael B Jordan, Governor Newsom, etc.), studios (such as Warner Bros) and funders and organizations in the Philanthropic space. By coordinating the efforts of these different “communities” and skillsets, One Community is able to engender the most impactful change.
Jarrett Harper
Campaign Ambassador, Represent Justice
Jarrett Harper is a System-impacted returning citizen who became a criminal justice reform advocate after surviving the foster care system and mass incarceration for 20 years. Jarrett spent the first 16 years of his life in multiple abusive foster homes as a troubled, at-risk foster youth that experienced unimaginable trauma by an abuser who befriended him as a little boy. That toxic encounter consumed Jarrett with shame and anger, which led him to take the life of his abuser in an attempt to protect himself and his younger brother. At the age of just 17-years-old, Jarrett received a life sentence without the possibility of parole plus ten years. Despite having no chance for release from prison, Jarrett found forgiveness and hope. After years of deep introspection and reflection upon his life, he made it his mission to transform his own life by helping others change theirs. Jarrett has an intimate knowledge of the pitfalls of destructive thinking and the behavior of young people who are in the process of learning new and healthier ways to exist in the world. He has experience implementing youth organizations, therapeutic programs, and classes structured around healing and positive behavior to maximize human potential. In addition to social justice reform, public speaking, leadership building, training and mentoring, his skill set and mindset taps into the resourcefulness of people to initiate creative solutions. He has experience in teaching cognitive behavior therapy, trauma awareness and healing dialogue with certification from The Catalyst Foundation, which focuses on restorative justice and creating a healing society. After years of hard work and the support of advocates like Bryan Stevenson, John Legend, Ty Stiklorius, Human Rights Watch, Loyola Law school and many other supporters, on August 17, 2018, after serving 20 years, Jarrett’s sentence was commuted by Governor Jerry Brown. On June 18, 2019 he was released from prison by Governor Gavin Newsom. Jarrett is a passionate advocate working for equality, positive change in the foster system, ending life sentences for juvenile offenders, and creating more resources for rehabilitation for those returning to society.
Moderated by Michele Norris
The Washington Post
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