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First-Ever Criminal Justice Film Festival Rides Wave of Reform

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Los Angeles will be the site of the first-ever annual film festival devoted exclusively to films exposing grave defects in the American criminal justice system. The festival arrives at a time of tremendous national ferment and momentum for progressive change. The U.S. Attorney General is calling for a new look at sentencing practices and California is undertaking the broad implementation of public safety realignment. Even more moderate elements of the conservative political community are pushing back in opposition to the high rate and runaway costs of mass incarceration.

justice on trial film festival

"Justice On Trial" is the name of the two-day affair; scheduled for Oct. 20-21 at Loyola Marymount University (LMU). Michelle Alexander will be the keynote speaker during the festival's first day. The second day’s featured speaker will be Ethan Nadelmann, JD, PhD, founder & executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. The festival coincides with LMU’s annual Bellarmine Forum, which will explore this year’s theme of “Restorative Justice”.

The idea for the festival grew out of conversations between Susan Burton, founder and executive director of A New Way of Life Reentry Project and Michelle Alexander, author of the bestselling book, “The New Jim Crow”. Alexander felt that Los Angeles was the right place and Burton, the ideal organizer, for an event explicitly aimed at building the anti-incarceration movement.

justice on trial film festival

"We make no bones about the fact that we want to strengthen the movement by means of these screenings and discussions," says Burton, herself a formerly incarcerated person. "But we are also certain that there are people who have never been activists who will be moved and inspired to get involved after they see some of these films and meet the people who made them and whose work will be featured."

Burton's collaborators in producing the festival include the new faith-based anti-incarceration initiative called “Justice Not Jails”, the highly-strategic “Coalition to End Sheriff Violence” and the award-winning online magazine, “LA Progressive”. Festival expenses will be underwritten in part by Californians for Safety and Justice (CSJ), the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), and the LA Regional Re-Entry Partnership (LARRP). Other groups engaged in criminal justice reform activities in California are also helping to support and promote the festival.

For complete information and reservations, please visit The event is expected to sell out, so seating is limited. Early reservations are recommended.

Go here for tickets and latest information.

About Michelle Alexander:

Michelle Alexander is a highly acclaimed civil rights lawyer, advocate, and legal scholar. In recent years, she has taught at a number of universities, including Stanford Law School, where she was an associate professor of law and directed the Civil Rights Clinics. In 2005, she won a Soros Justice Fellowship, which supported the writing of The New Jim Crow, and that same year she accepted a joint appointment at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University. Since its first publication, The New Jim Crow has received rave reviews and has been featured in national radio and television media outlets, including MSNBC, NPR, Bill Moyers Journal, Tavis Smiley, C-SPAN, and Washington Journal, among others. In March, the book won the 2011 NAACP Image Award for best nonfiction.

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Prior to entering academia, Alexander served as the director of the Racial Justice Project for the ACLU of Northern California, where she coordinated the Project’s media advocacy, grassroots organizing, coalition building, and litigation. The Project’s priority areas were educational equity and criminal justice reform, and it was during those years at the ACLU that she began to awaken to the reality that our nation’s criminal justice system functions more like a caste system than a system of crime prevention or control. She became passionate about exposing and challenging racial bias in the criminal justice system, ultimately launching and leading a major campaign against racial profiling by law enforcement known as the “DWB Campaign” or “Driving While Black or Brown Campaign.”

About Ethan Nadelmann, JD, PhD:

Described by Rolling Stone as "the point man" for drug policy reform efforts, Ethan Nadelmann is widely regarded as the outstanding proponent of drug policy reform both in the United States and abroad.

Nadelmann is the founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, the leading organization in the United States promoting alternatives to the war on drugs. Nadelmann received his B.A., J.D., and Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard as well as a Masters' degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics, and taught at Princeton University for seven years. He has authored two books – Cops Across Borders and (with Peter Andreas) Policing The Globe – and his writings have appeared in most major media outlets in the U.S. as well as top academic journals (e.g., Science, International Organization), policy journals (Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Washington Quarterly, Public Interest) and political publications from the right (National Review) to the left (The Nation). He is interviewed frequently by media, including The Colbert Report, The O’Reilly Factor, Real Time with Bill Maher, and news programs on all the major U.S. networks as well as dozens of networks elsewhere.

Nadelmann and his colleagues have played pivotal roles in most of the major drug policy reform ballot initiative campaigns in the United States on issues ranging from medical marijuana and marijuana legalization to prison reform, drug treatment and reform of asset forfeiture laws. They also have reformed state and federal laws involving drug sentencing, access to sterile syringes to reduce HIV/AIDS, access to drug treatment, prevention of overdose fatalities, and all aspects of marijuana policy. Nadelmann also plays a key role as drug policy advisor to George Soros and other prominent philanthropists as well as elected officials ranging from mayors, governors and state and federal legislators in the U.S. to presidents and cabinet ministers outside the U.S.

About Susan Burton and “A New Way of Life Reentry Project”:

A New Way of Life Reentry Project (ANWOL) is a grassroots, nonprofit organization founded in 1998 by Susan Burton. After a car driven by an off-duty police officer accidentally killed Susan’s five-year-old son, she numbed her grief through sinking into an abyss of substance abuse that ended in periods of incarceration. She became trapped in the criminal justice system for nearly two decades before finding freedom and sobriety in 1997. Susan has since made it her life’s mission to help others adversely affected by the problems of incarceration and addiction by providing them with safety, support, and a second chance. The organization is the only one of its type in the Los Angeles area that offers reentry, reunification, empowerment and leadership development opportunities for this population. For her efforts, Susan was named a CNN Top Ten Hero for 2010 and was also awarded the prestigious Citizen Activist Award from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In honor of her personal and professional expertise, Second District Supervisor, Mark Ridley-Thomas, appointed Susan to the Sybil Brand Commission for Institutional Inspections. She is also a recipient of a 2012 Encore Purpose Prize; a national honor given annually to five American social innovators for their contributions to society through their Encore careers. Finally, in June of 2013, ANWOL was honored with a "Ford Freedom Unsung Award" that salutes "individuals and organizations that have positively impacted communities with achievements that inform and inspire others".

About “Justice Not Jails”:

Justice Not Jails is a growing Los Angeles-based interfaith coalition that brings people of faith into active engagement with the sources of an inhumane mass incarceration system. Justice Not Jails promotes a restorative public health model for public safety in place of the unjust, racially biased, and unsustainable punishment-based system we now have. The coalition trains faith leaders to become more effective spokespeople and advocates. It produces and disseminates educational and theological resources on mass incarceration topics for use within faith communities. And it mobilizes people to press concrete policy changes at the county and state levels.

About “Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in L.A. Jails”

The Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in L.A. Jails is a grassroots multiracial organization bringing together community organizations, health providers, clergy, attorneys, community residents, friends and families and survivors of the brutality inside L.A. jails to fight for real accountability. We are proposing a People’s Civilian Review Board comprised wholly of citizens that has subpoena power, where citizen complaints are reviewed and investigated, and recommendations for disciplinary or policy action are made by the board.

About “LA Progressive”

LA Progressive is an award-winning online magazine for progressives that publishes on issues of political, social, and cultural consequence, with a particular focus on criminal justice reform, racial justice, and the prison-industrial complex.

justice on trial film festival