Monday, November 9, 2015

Local People and Well-Known People Speak Out About Mass Incarceration and its Consequences

First Up: Oprah Winfrey interviews Bryan Stephenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of the book Just Mercy
Click on the link below to see the interview:

Next Up: Comedian John Oliver (caution: adult language)
John Oliver addresses the issues of prisoner re-entry, what happens when the formerly incarcerated re-enter society. Click on the link below to view the segment:

And finally: WWLTV  New Orleans reporters interview former New Orleans Police Chief Ronal Serpas on how to reduce incarceration and crime at the same time
Click on the link below to see the interview:

Friday, October 9, 2015

Creating a Primer to (Re)Introduce the Problems of Mass Incarceration and its Connections with Racism

Equal Justice Louisiana is updating its blog to include a page that will categorize topics related to mass incarceration. This page will make it easier for people to educate themselves on particular topics related to criminal justice. Necessary to that education may be a refresher on how slavery and racism are connected to events that are happening today, such as the Black Lives Matter movement and the obscene increase in the numbers of those incarcerated in the United States. Thus, our first entry in the primer takes us to the past in order to help us understand how we got to the present: below are links to online videos and other materials which attempt to do just that. In the days ahead, we will be adding more categories to the new page.

Slavery and Racism: An Introduction

There are many sources available for studying the history of slavery and racism in America. This is a very limited list of sources as we are including what can be immediately available online, to serve as a primer, an introduction, to the history of slavery in America and its links to mass incarceration today.

1. The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross
This six-series PBS documentary is narrated by Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Only the first episode is online at PBS, though the DVD can be purchased for #24.99 at

Episode 1 can be viewed at that link, also, until 10/22/2017. Other episodes have been loaded to YouTube by private individuals. Here, then are links to all six episodes, with no guarantee as to how long those links will be viable.
2. Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938
The Library of Congress online source “contains more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black and white photographs of former slaves"  (, but a much shorter and more easily navigated version of some of these narratives, with accompanying photos, is found online at:

3. Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II
“In this groundbreaking historical expose, Douglas A. Blackmon brings to light one of the most shameful chapters in American history—when a cynical new form of slavery was resurrected from the ashes of the Civil War and re-imposed on hundreds of thousands of African-Americans until the dawn of World War II.” 

Douglas Blackmon discusses his book here:
His presentation (which begins about 9:28) provides background to the Jim Crow laws that were passed by Southern states after the Civil War. He describes how his research revealed the myths of black criminality after the war and how white Southerners used such laws as “vagrancy” and other trumped-up offenses to arrest masses of black men who were then penalized to work for commercial operations that the law allowed to “buy out” prisoners from the jails.

PBS documentary based on Douglas Blackmon’s book:
Also available here:

4. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
The New Jim Crow is a stunning account of the rebirth of a caste-like system in the United States, one that has resulted in millions of African Americans locked behind bars and then relegated to a permanent second-class status—denied the very rights supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement. Since its publication in 2010, the book has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for more than a year; been dubbed the 'secular bible of a new social movement' by numerous commentators, including Cornel West; and has led to consciousness-raising efforts in universities, churches, community centers, re-entry centers, and prisons nationwide. The New Jim Crow tells a truth our nation has been reluctant to face.”

On Fresh Air, Dave Davies interviews Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow. At this link, you can listen to the program or read highlights of the interview:

The Center for Law and Justice summarizes Michelle Alexander’s book here:

An online video of Michelle Alexander giving the 2013 George E. Kent Lecture at the University of Chicago:

5. Institutional and Systemic Racism
We tend to focus on individual racism, which we can easily identify because it is often overt. However, racism manifests itself in much more subtle and damaging ways through the institutions and embedded structure of a society. And the effects are far-reaching. 
Additional sources:
  • Mississippi’s War: Slavery and Secession (almost 59 minutes long) 
This documentary of one state’s experience with slavery and secession was aired by Mississippi Public Broadcasting. The documentary examines states’ rights versus slavery and the motivating factor that led to the state’s seceding from the Union.
  • Big Think—Ethan Nadelman: The War on Drugs is Racist
  • online video: What Scientific Racism Did to the Blacks Worldwide
  • The New Jim Crow online documentary 
  •  PBS, American Forum: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism  (56:54 minutes)
Douglas Blackmon talks with Edward Baptist, author of the book The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. Blackmon begins the forum by stating that the book is:
a history of ante-bellum slavery in the United States arguing that the enslavement of African people brought to North America in the two centuries prior to the Civil War was not just a great moral failure of American society, in the South specifically, but was in fact the cornerstone for economic success throughout the United States in that century, that for decades and decades slavery was central to the fortunes of generations of all white Americans in the North, South, and West, regardless of whether or not they directly owned enslaved people or participated in the business of slavery. He suggests even that the very survival of the young American republic created in 1776 was due to the nation’s voracious and violent exploitation of enslaved people and that without slavery the United States would never have emerged as a world power.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"Black Lives Matter, Black Citizens Matter, Black Families Matter"

In the video below, U. S. Senator Elizabeth Warren addresses the problems of racism in America, providing historical background as well as identifying important improvements and the need for further work. The main part of her speech begins at about 15 minutes into the video.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Adopting Blog Name for the Original Task Force

UPDATE, 26 September, 2015:
In early 2013, the Northshore New Jim Crow Task Force was formed at the Northshore Unitarian Universalist Church in Lacombe, Louisiana. It began with a weekly discussion of Michelle Alexander's newly published book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, the title from which the group took its name. Members of the group included parishioners of the Unitarian church as well as members of nearby communities of Covington, Abita Springs, Mandeville, and New Orleans, among others. After the book discussions, members continued to meet to discuss local issues, to watch films on the topic of mass incarceration and the school to prison pipeline. Some members became involved in the political process, attending meetings of local organizations that supported related social issues such as predatory payday loans, poverty, voting access, and overly-harsh drug penalties in the Louisiana justice system, as well as other mass incarceration issues. Some members also attended committee meetings of the Louisiana state legislature and rallies at the state capitol. Over time, then, the original task force has moved beyond its beginnings as a discussion group in the local Unitarian church, and, as a result, we are adopting the name of our blog as the signifier of our social and political activities: Equal Justice Louisiana.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Call to Action: Please Use This Blog

When the Northshore New Jim Crow Task Force began meeting two years ago, participants first read and discussed Michelle Alexander's book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Those discussions led us to meet people who had real experience with the criminal justice system in Louisiana, from the formerly incarcerated to relatives of the incarcerated to defense lawyers. We dug deeper. Some of us became active in local and state politics, hoping to influence the legislature of the "prison capital of the world."

The work is not done.

We have gathered information on this blog to help people become informed of various issues related to mass incarceration and endemic racism which affect us all. We have heard people express that racism is in the past, that people should look ahead, not to what happened to their ancestors, but forward to the future. But the past has created the present. We deal with the consequences of the past every day. The material posted on this blog and the videos to which we have linked support that truth.

There is a wealth of information here to aid you on your journey of informative activism. Help yourself!

On our Resources page, you can find:
  • reports that review the history of slavery in America, history that many of us did not study in school;
  • reports on people in the United States being sent to prison for debts;
  • reports on the school-to-prison pipeline and the juvenile justice system;
  • links to online videos--documentaries that explore the difficulties that the incarcerated face when they are released from jail, that investigate the effects of the (failed) Drug War on people and communities, that suggest how we can reduce recidivism, that explore the treatment of the mentally ill in our criminal justice system;
  • and more....
On our Events page, you can find an event--local or regional in Louisiana, political, informative, or celebratory--that you might like to attend.

On our Related Organizations page, you can find an organization with which you might want to become involved or to learn more about.

On the Lagniappe page, you will find news articles from writers of different viewpoints, reporting and editorializing on:
  • racism, 
  • mass incarceration, 
  • the predatory costs of prison phone calls, 
  • unequal justice in sentencing,
  • the criminalization of minority youth
  •  the high crime rate, the high poverty rate, and high incarceration rate in Louisiana and the connection of those with income inequality 
Our Home page includes the latest posts and information on opportunities for action, such as the recent posts below: 
We will continue to update this blog in the months ahead. Check in and check out what's new!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Call to Action: The High Cost of Prison Phone Calls

As a recent article in The New York Times states, "Until the 1990s, inmates [in U.S. prisons] could place and receive calls to lawyers and family members at rates similar to those outside prison walls." That is no longer the case. Prison phone calls have become increasingly expensive, creating yet another barrier between those incarcerated and the world outside, between prisoners and their loved ones, between despair and hope, between recidivism and rehabilitation. 

Largely unregulated private enterprise profits while families suffer: the $1.2-billion-a-year profits of the prison phone system come from shaking down the families of prisoners, people who often can little afford the extra costs.

The Federal Communications Committee (FCC) finally began paying attention to the complaints of prison-rights groups and to the families of the incarcerated and have begun investigating the multi-billion dollar industry. Some reforms have been set in motion, but more needs to be done to ensure fair pricing in prison phone calls.


  • By becoming informed:
  1. "The High Cost of Calling the Imprisoned," Timothy Williams, The New York Times, 30 March 2015.
  2. "PSC Commissioner Slams Prison Phone Company Payments," posted on, 18 May 2015.
  3. "Campbell Calls for Refund of Millions of Illegal Jail Telephone Fees," posted on the website of Foster Campbell, Louisiana Public Service Commissioner, 13 July 2015.
  4. "Inside the Shadowy Business of Prison Phone Calls," Eric Markowitz, orginally published in Prison Legal News, August 2015, and posted on the website of Prison Phone Justice ( Other related articles are posted on this site:
  • By taking action
  1. Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper supporting prison phone call reforms. Include specific information you have gathered from your reading and research and/or from personal experience.
  2. Support politicians who call for prison reforms and who back up those calls with legislative action.
  3. Communicate to leaders of your community and of local law enforcement your support of fair pricing in prison phone calls.
  4. Send messages to the FCC to support further investigation and reform of  the largely unregulated industry of the prison phone system: 
  • Nation Inside website has a link for sending a message to the FCC to end predatory prison phone rates. You can get more information at the web site and learn about the supporters of The Nation Inside, "a platform that connects and supports people who are building a movement to systematically challenge mass incarceration in the United States." 
  • Color of also has a Take Action form that you can fill out to communicate to the FCC your support of fair pricing in prison phone calls:

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Call to Action: Justice for Victor White

The Black Lives Matter movement is bringing national attention to the issue of police brutality that too frequently results in the death or injury of unarmed black men and women. While we care, of course, about equal justice for all, endemic racism, consciously or unconsciously manifested, greatly affects minority communities. The death of teenager Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman, self-appointed judge and executioner, brought nationwide attention to what some people, especially minorities, already knew existed: a disproportionate meting out of unfair and unbalanced sentencing and racially-tinged brutality on minorities. Now local stories of suspicious deaths and arrests that once might not have caught anyone's attention beyond the town, county, or parish in which these incidences occur are finally making national news. One such story is that of Victor White III, a 22-year old man who was arrested in New Iberia, LA, in early March of last year, after police were called to a brawl in front of a convenience store. Mr. White was searched--twice!--and a small amount of illegal drugs (suspected marijuana) was discovered on his person. However, in those two searches, no weapons, no gun was found. The mystery is how he ended up, handcuffed, in the back of a police car, where the deputy who arrested him claims that he killed himself with a gun (a gun that managed to elude two searches and to put a hole in Victor's chest while he was handcuffed).

 You can read about the case in these articles:

"Victor White's unbelievable 'Houdini handcuff suicide," Jonathan Capehart, The Washington Post, 2 September 2014.

"One year later, Victor White's family says they have yet to hear account of son's death in backseat of police unit," Daniel Bethencourt, The Advocate, 5 March 2015.

"Federal probe into death just too long," Will Chapman, The Daily Iberian, 5 August 2015.

"Before Sandra Bland, there was Victor White: Why this death in police custody should have you outraged," Sean Illing, Salon, 27 August 2015.

PLEASE TAKE ACTION by supporting Victor White's family's quest for answers and for justice, here:
Justice for Victor White

Week of Action events are also planned for October 12-18, 2015.
Information available here: