Last Thursday, over 400 attendees from across Georgia gathered at the state capitol for the ninth annual criminal justice advocacy day. Hosted by many partners of the Georgia Justice Reform Partnership (JRP) – a collection of over 50 organizations interested in advancing criminal justice reform in Georgia – Justice Day 2020: Focused on the Future engaged attendees in a discussion about the ways to bring opportunity, dignity, and redemption to those involved in Georgia’s criminal legal systems.
Legislators and members of the JRP opened Justice Day with an overview of the day’s programming. Mazie Lynn Causey, Policy Advocate with Georgia Associate of Criminal Defense Lawyers (GACDL), charged the audience with uplifting and amplifying the voices of those who are most directly impacted by the criminal legal system through the day’s themes: Opportunity, Dignity, Redemption, and Action. Marissa Dodson, Public Policy Director at SCHR, provided an overview of the JRP’s legislative agenda for the 2019-2020 legislative session. Representative Andy Welch talked about the budget cuts Governor Kemp has proposed for criminal justice agencies and encouraged attendees to urge their Senators to leave Georgia’s public defender program budget intact.
The day continued with an array of advocates, legislators, and people directly impacted by Georgia’s criminal legal system who provided diverse commentary on criminal justice reform priority areas. Speakers developed their remarks around the four core themes of the day that Ms. Causey presented and encompassed the stages of the criminal legal system from arrest and initial involvement to reentry. Topics ranged from “crimmigration”—a term coined to describe how criminal-legal and immigration systems interact and deprive people of access to opportunity—to a speech from Tariq Baiyina of Inner-City Muslim Action Network’s Atlanta Chapter (IMAN Atlanta), who used his personal experiences with voting disenfranchisement due to a felony to illuminate the myriad ways that the criminal-legal system continues to deprive people of dignity long after they are under direct correctional control.
Midway through the program attendees shifted their focus away from listening and learning from speakers to the final theme of the day— action. They received a crash course in ways to lobby legislators and those who identified as directly impacted by the criminal-legal system headed over to the Capitol to share their stories and advocate for positive reforms. Other participants chose between activities that deepened their understanding of the themes of Justice Day; including workshops on artistic reflection, storytelling, letter-writing to the children of incarcerated parents, and a virtual reality solitary confinement experience provided by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT). Justice Day attendees also donated over 50 Lbs. of bar soap and shampoo to be distributed to the women at Lee Arrendale Prison, and over 140 books and magazines for the library at the Metro Re-Entry Facility in Atlanta.
Over lunch, April LaLand-Sentmanat, founder and CEO Minister of Woman-2-Woman & Associates (W2WA), delivered Justice Day 2020’s keynote speech. Ms. LaLand-Sentmanat described the ways that her own experiences with substance use and domestic violence, absent adequate social services, led to her incarceration and an excessive probationary period. Though the criminal legal system utterly failed to provide her with any of the resources she needed to thrive, Ms. LaLand-Sentmanat provided powerful testimony on the role spirituality, Georgia Justice Project’s legal advocacy, and her own determination and voice played in her recovery. Ms. LaLand-Sentmanat’s work with W2WA now allows her to empower and uplift other women in crisis through W2WA’s workshops, temporary safe housing, and employment assistance, among other services.
Tiffany Roberts, SCHR’s Community Engagement and Movement Building Counsel, closed out Justice Day by presenting the Justice Reform Partnership’s Justice Day 2020 Freedom Fighter Award to Marilynn Winn and Women on the Rise for their work to close the Atlanta City Detention Center. Sharon Turner and Denise Ruben accepted the award on behalf of Ms. Winn, and left Justice Day attendees with an apt sentiment— “When we fight, we win.”
You can watch the live stream from the event below.