Human Rights Institute Conference highlights U.S. incarceration

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Outside Kean University Human Rights Institute

By Rose Marie Kitchen/ Published April 5

The Human Rights Institute (HRI) of Kean University has decided to use their annual
conference as an opportunity to explore the three major aspects of the United States
prison system: The School-to-Prison Pipeline, the consequences and overuse of solitary
confinement and the profiteers behind it all.
The conference is entitled “Locked up in America: The Business of Incarceration” and
will take place on April 8, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Wilkins Theatre. The conference is
open to the public and admission is free with online registration.
“The United States has the highest prison population in the world; around two million
inmates at 724 people per 100,000,” said Lina Caswell, graduate assistant (GA) for the
HRI and graduate student working towards her Master’s in sociology and social justice.
“In contrast to Russia at (a) rate of 581. How come this is happening in the United States?
What are the institutions, systems (and) conditions that allow for this to continue?
These are not new questions, but in our current social and political climate they pose
an important challenge to the community at large.”
The federal prison system in the U.S. is a multi-billion-dollar private industry that is
currently under fire from different human rights groups for alleged abuse reports. The
importance and urgency for this conference was based on President Obama’s op-ed in
The Washington Post, where he announced a ban on solitary confinement for juvenile
offenders in the federal prison system. This ban will prohibit a use of punishment for
any low-level infractions and will also limit the time any federal inmate can be placed in
solitary confinement.
“President Obama’s recent action demonstrates that these issues have reached
the highest corridors of powers in the nation,” said Kean University President Dr. Dawood Farahi, in a University Relation press release. “This year’s (HRI) conference is an educational and advocacy initiative that not only seeks to increase awareness of these abuses and their root causes, but also serves as a call to action to address and eradicate
the human rights violations that pervade our country’s justice system.”
Speakers at the conference include: Alexander Shalom, Senior Staff Attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union in N.J., Christopher McNabb, Organizer at the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) in N.J. and Thena Robinson-
Mock, Director of the End the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track, Advancement Project
Washington, D.C. The HRI in collaboration with NRCAT will host a solitary confinement cell replica called “Breaking Down the Box” from March 30 to April 8. The replica will help provide visitors with a full solitary confinement experience quipped with an audio recording from a maximum security prison in Maine.
“Students and community members will have the opportunity to experience, for a
few minutes, the isolation and despair that thousands of men and women experienced in
prisons across the U.S.,” said Caswell.
The mission of the replica is for participants to sit by themselves and envision how it would be to be imprisoned in a solitary confinement cell for hours, days or even
For more information, feel free to contact the HRI by email at humanrights@kean.
edu or phone at (908)- 737-4670. More information may also found on the HRI’s

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