Over the past year, I’ve seen the work and passion of NYU Silver School of Social Work Adjunct Professor Terrance Coffie. I have been in his classroom, virtually, interacted with his students and have witnessed a fresh approach to criminal justice reform through his pragmatic approach to educate the public about incarceration. One program that reflects his work at Silver School of Social Work is his efforts in working with a terrific team to bring about an academic conference April 7 – 8, 2022 focusing on collective action toward necessary change and new approaches to criminal justice. The conference, Re-Imagine Justice 2022 is bringing together leading criminal justice professionals across the country for a discussion on the human impact of crime and incarceration.
Reimagine Justice 2022 briefly examines the history of the incarceration in the United States and what has changed over the past six years. Coffie, one of the organizers of the event, told me that he wants participants and panelists to ask;”What do we need to do now to facilitate justice for all people?” It’s a question that Coffie has at the forefront of nearly aspect of his life as he encounters politicians, lawmakers, academics and students. “We the people –– especially elected officials, must constantly honor, wrestle with, and be accountable to the co-creation of effective social policy and practice,” Coffie said.
One of the panelists at the conference will be Dr. Kirk “Jae” James. In 2016, NYU Silver School of Social Work welcomed Dr. Jae –– a formerly incarcerated Black man whose dissertation, “The Invisible Epidemic: Educating Social Work Students towards Holistic Practice in a Period of Mass Incarceration,” raised awareness of an issue affecting millions of Americans; prison. Dr. Jae does not mince words when he said that state and federal government need to aid people needing social work services while simultaneously dismantling, “an overtly racially-charged system of oppression rooted in the ethos of chattel slavery.“
Ben Sher is currently the Director of the Office of Global and Lifelong Learning at the Silver School. Dr. Jae presented an idea to Sher to have a conference examining the historical genesis and intersectional impact of incarceration in the U.S. After a few conversations, Sher and Dr. Jae began to put the building blocks into place for what would become Reimagine Justice 2016 –– a groundbreaking conference that featured academics, social workers, artists, activists, and impacted people from across the country working together to spread awareness about mass incarceration.
Six years since the conference started, the world is very much a different place where there are complex problems facing the planet. There are wars and genocide on multiple continents, a global pandemic continues to disproportionately kill health compromised and historical vulnerable people and there continues to be prisons filled with with people of color. The U.S. prison industrial complex is still thriving despite measures, to scale it back. Dr. Jae said “It is time that we pause and just ask ‘What is Justice?’”.
Reimagine Justice 2022 takes place virtually from April 7th to the 8th, is free or pay-what-you-can, and will feature ASL and CART captioning throughout –– accessibility features that student MSW student organizers Michelle Fletcher and Julia Lipuma ensured that the conference is truly open to all people. “I am committed to applying the lessons learned in the pandemic and healing my own ableism. Many of us experienced living in isolation while sheltering in place, we must not abandon the lessons learned. I am proud that we’re making this conference accessible on multiple levels from offering it online, making it free or pay-what-you-can to providing ASL and CART captioning throughout.” – Michelle Fletcher, MFA, Artist Laborer Advocate and MSW student at NYU Silver.
Dr. Jae, who is the author of a forthcoming memoir titled 94A6325: Coming of Age in the Era of Mass Incarceration, will give the featured keynote on April 7th –– the rest of the day is divided into panels featuring formerly impacted people, politicians, and academics discussing topics like mental health, the state of incarceration, progressive prosecution and political action. The conference will conclude with a keynote by Andrea…