Town Hall to Focus on Experiences of Women and Children in Justice System

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Oklahoma incarcerates women, many of them mothers, at a rate more than twice the national average. As the state grapples with an emerging political consensus around criminal justice reform, The Atlantic, in collaboration with Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting with participation from Oklahoma Watch, will convene an afternoon event next Wednesday in Oklahoma City centered around the experiences of women affected by the state’s justice system.

Defining Justice: The Experience of Women and Children Behind Bars,” will take place on September 20 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. CT at Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers Theatre (4322 N. Western Ave). This is the first in a series of three Atlantic events, underwritten by Google, examining aspects of the American criminal justice system and how they affect women and children in cities across the country. The event is free and open to the public. Click the title above or this link to register.

Gov. Mary Fallin will join the program for a one-on-one discussion on the political path toward criminal justice reform in Oklahoma, moderated by The Atlantic’s Alison Stewart.

Oklahoma Watch Executive Editor David Fritze will conduct an on-stage interview with another Oklahoma leader on issues related to incarceration and the justice system. In addition, Ziva Branstetter, senior editor for Reveal and former editor of The Frontier, based in Tulsa, will conduct interviews.

Conversations across the afternoon will confront key questions surrounding women in Oklahoma’s criminal justice system: Why is the women’s incarceration rate in Oklahoma so high? What are the long-term human costs to the women and children affected by the justice system? And what could a woman-oriented criminal justice system look like?

Speakers include policymakers, advocates, justice experts, and women who have been incarcerated in Oklahoma prisons. Among the experts taking part in the discussions are Sheila Harbert, chief community outreach officer for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Oklahoma; Mimi Tarrasch, executive director of Women In Recovery;  Kris Steele, executive director of The Education and Employment Ministry and the former Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives; and Susan Sharp, presidential professor emerita at the University of Oklahoma and author of Mean Lives, Mean Laws: Oklahoma’s Women Prisoners.

Journalists with Reveal will discuss details of their new investigation and data analysis examining the roots of why Oklahoma incarcerates women at the highest rate in the country. The report will be available on revealnews.org and will be featured on Reveal’s national public radio and show and podcast, produced with PRX.

“Defining Justice” is the latest extension of The Atlantic’s dedication to covering the complex issues of race and justice that America has grappled with throughout its history. The September issue of the magazine featured an extensive report on the plea bargain system by Emily Yoffe, “Innocence is Irrelevant,” and Ta-Nehisi Coates penned a scathing reflection of race and the Trump presidency for the magazine’s forthcoming October issue. The Atlantic is running an ongoing digital reporting series, “In the Presence of Justice,” focusing on efforts across the U.S. to move beyond the age of mass incarceration.

Oklahoma Watch has published a major project, “Women in Prison,” in conjunction with other Oklahoma news media; an examination of the role of trauma in incarcerated women’s lives; and a seven-part series, “Prisoners of Debt,” about the heavy fines and fees levied against inmates in the criminal justice system.

Google is underwriting this event series as part of its ongoing efforts to support organizations that use data science and digital storytelling to advance inclusion and justice for all.