Montana Innocence Project and Montana’s Black Law Students Association to host panel discussion about mass incarceration, “13th”

In recognition of Juneteenth, Montana’s Black Law Students Association and the Montana Innocence Project will host a virtual panel on June 17 from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. Alicia Miles, Director of Admissions at the Alexander Blewett III School of Law, will moderate the panel, and it will feature Courtney Smith, the Montana Racial Equity Project’s Criminal Justice Initiative Lead, Akilah Lane, a Civil Rights Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Montana, and SK Rossi, the founder of Central House Strategies and the former Director of Advocacy and Policy at the ACLU of Montana.

The emancipation proclamation, which declared all enslaved people free, was issued on January 1, 1863, but news of emancipation did not arrive in Texas until June 19, 1865. Juneteenth commemorates this day. It is celebratory but also a day for education and reflection. As such, our panel discussion will center around the issue of mass incarceration and Ava DuVernay’s 2016 Netflix documentary “13th.”

The United States is the leading country in incarceration. Our population makes up less than five percent of the world’s population, but our inmates make up nearly 25 percent of the world’s inmate population. The term mass incarceration refers to the sheer number of people we incarcerate but also the underlying motivations. Just six months after the news of emancipation made it to Texas, the 13th Amendment was ratified. It abolished slavery but not entirely. As described in Duvernay’s documentary, the amendment made it unconstitutional to enslave someone—unless they are a criminal. The 13th Amendment states, “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” With the amendment clearly allowing for slavery in the form of punishment for committing a crime, the creation of laws targeting Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, the over-criminalization and over-policing of BIPOC, and the unjust and wrongful convictions of BIPOC have been ever-present in America.

The panel will discuss how mass incarceration is a form of modern-day slavery, how the criminal legal system promotes mass incarceration today, how society has come to associate BIPOC with criminality, and how mass incarceration persists in Montana. MTIP and MBLSA encourage viewing “13th” on Netflix prior to the panel discussion.

Please note that the panel is not on Juneteenth. It is on June 17 from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. on Zoom.

Zoom link:

Meeting ID: 918 0057 3206

Password: 521443