Incarceration and the Path to Reform | Mechanics' Institute

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Incarceration and the Path to Reform
A Conversation with author Baz Dreisinger, SF DA George Gascón, Jacques Verduin of Insight-Out and GRIP, and former inmate and GRIP graduate Terrell Merritt

Fiscal and physical challenges to our penal systems as well as changing attitudes about prison reform are happening locally, nationally, and internationally. Join this discussion about one of the most important issues of our time with experts in the field; and see how San Francisco is modeling a new paradigm for rehabilitation and issues of human rights for those incarcerated. With President Obama's December 18th commutation of 95 non-violent drug offenders to the recent "vote- down" of funding the new prison in San Francisco--there is much to talk about! 

Author Baz Dreisinger journeyed to Jamaica to visit a prison music program, to Singapore to learn about approaches to prisoner reentry, to Australia to grapple with the bottom line of private prisons, to a federal supermax in Brazil to confront the horrors of solitary confinement, and finally to the so-called model prisons of Norway. This jarring and poignant trek invites us to rethink one of America's most devastating exports, the modern prison system.

Dr. Baz Dreisinger writes for such outlets as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and ForbesLife, and produces on-air segments about music and global culture for National Public Radio. With Oscar-nominated filmmaker Peter Spirer, Professor Dreisinger produced and wrote the documentaries Black & Blue: Legends of the Hip-Hop Cop, and Rhyme & Punishment. Her book Near Black: White to Black Passing in American Culture was published in 2008 by University of Massachusetts Press.

Jacques Verduin has worked in prisons for 20 years, designing and running innovative rehabilitation programs. He is a subject matter expert on mindfulness, restorative justice, emotional intelligence, and transforming violence. He directs the non-profit "Insight-Out" which helps prisoners and challenged youth create the personal and systemic change to transform violence and suffering into opportunities for learning and healing.

The Guiding Rage into Power (GRIP) Program at San Quentin is a year-long transformative program that provides the tools that enable prisoners to "turn the stigma of being a violent offender into a badge of being a non-violent Peacekeeper." A former inmate and graduate of this program will be on the panel.

Terrell Merritt is from Gary, Indiana. After high school he enlisted in the Navy and was stationed in San Diego, CA. After leaving the Navy, he spend 20 years in prison for 2nd degree murder. During that time, he began to soul search and incorporate practices into his life that promote nonviolence. These include nonviolence communication, Zen Buddhism, and the GRIP Program; a yearlong transformational program that he became a facilitator of. On November 10th 2015, he was paroled after serving 20 years and 8 months in prison. He is currently working to reestablish himself into the community and to give back where he can.

George Gascón is the District Attorney for the City and County of San Francisco. He has earned a national reputation as a criminal justice visionary that uses evidence based practices to lower crime and make communities safer. He is the first Latino to hold the office in San Francisco and is the nation’s first police chief to become District Attorney.  Looking to find alternatives to incarceration for low-level offenders, DA Gascón created the nation’s first Alternative Sentencing Program to support prosecutors in assessing risk and determine the most appropriate course of action for each case. The goal is to protect victims and the community by addressing offenders’ risk factors in order to break the cycle of crime and reduce recidivism.

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