Two UW-Madison Law School student organizations encouraged attendees to take action against mass incarceration at a panel Thursday.
The National Lawyers Guild and the Black Law Student Association chose the theme of mass incarceration for their “Take Action” panel because it is a permanent issue in the state of Wisconsin and permeates many different types of law, according to a BLSA representative.
“[The panel] gave students a chance to come out to the Law School and have a conversation about mass incarceration and have an open dialogue about the issues,” said UW-Madison junior Nehemiah Siyoum. “The first step to addressing the issue is to give people an opportunity to develop their own thoughts about how to move forward.”
The four panelists included Reggie Thedford, a second-year law student representing the BLSA; Michael Roy of the National Lawyers Guild; Tyriek Mack, a UW-Madison junior representing BlackOut and M Adams, the co-executive director at Freedom Inc.
Thedford discussed the importance of lobbying efforts by the greater community, especially on the issues of prison conditions, felon disenfranchisement, community control of policing and the reduction of collateral consequences.
Roy highlighted in his speech a discussion of the work that the law student group Prisoners Legal Advocacy Network does to help improve prison conditions and draft claims for civil rights violations in prisons.
Mack gave a brief history of the Black Lives Matter activism on campus and linked it to mass incarceration by discussing the consequences of the issue on the student body, specifically referencing UW-Madison’s demographics and the school-to-prison pipeline.
Adams discussed the macroconsequences of mass incarceration and asked the question of whether the prison industrial complex can be reformed. She said that mass incarceration is an extension of slavery and subjugation for people of color, and those who are benefitting from capitalism and cheap prison labor should be stopped.
The attendees of the panel were a diverse mix of undergraduates, law students, faculty and community members, which did not go unnoticed by event organizers.
“When was the last time you were in a room full of young black men, undergraduate students, law students, faculty, even the dean of the law school was here tonight,” second-year law student Jen Bizzotto said. “I don’t think I’ve seen a more diverse crowd at any law school event ever, and it just shows that we have to work to get to that point. It doesn’t just happen.”