Smart Decarceration Conference kicks off with discussion of injust incarceration practices, racial disparity

| Contributing Reporter

Rebecca Ginsburg defined the role that universities could play in helping former prisoners stay out of prison in the kickoff lecture of the 2015 Smart Decarceration Conference.

An associate professor in the department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Ginsburg discussed the benefits of offering for-credit college courses to inmates. Ginsburg is currently the director of their Education Justice Project (EJP), a program that offers college education in prison. Ginsburg asserted that not only do programs like EJP lower the recidivism rates—the likelihood that a person will return to committing crime—but also grant more men and women the basic right to an education.

Ginsburg focused on injustice within incarceration and how offering for-credit courses to those incarcerated in prisons will reduce recidivism and ultimately create a more just society and penal system.

She noted that there were severe disparities in the incarceration rates by ethnicity and race. For example, Ginsburg stated that black males were significantly more incarcerated that white males due to a criminal justice system that unconsciously favors white people.

“The one impact that stuck out to me about this lecture was definitely when [Ginsburg] discussed how the path from committing the crime to incarceration was an unfair journey. The large number of black people who were incarcerated compared to the whites really stuck out,” Claire Ross, a Washington University graduate student in German said.

Ginsburg also argued that more universities should be offering higher education to prisoners because incarceration is a crucial contemporary civil rights struggle. She stated that universities should use their resources and be at the forefront of this struggle.

“I hope [the University students] use the opportunities they have at Wash. U. and get into issues of prison reform and injustice,” Ginsburg said.

Ginsburg stated that although she did not know James McLeod, the late dean of the College of Arts & Sciences and the lecture’s namesake, she thinks of him as a change agent and visionary who operated through gentleness, kindness and bravery. Additionally, Ginsburg stated that McLeod was largely responsible for creating and fostering Washington University’s vibrant, intellectual and friendly environment.

Clara McLeod, librarian at the Ronald Rettner Earth & Planetary Sciences Library and widow of James McLeod, said she felt the lecture honored her late husband.

“It’s so wonderful hearing about issues that James [McLeod] has loved, cared and devoted his whole life to in this lecture,” McLeod said.