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January 17, 2024

Eastern State Penitentiary's new series intends to spark dialogue about incarceration and civil rights

Justice 101 is comprised of five virtual sessions. The first — 'Conversation on Civil Rights Movements within Prisons' — takes place Jan. 19

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Eastern State social justice Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia is hosting a new virtual discussion series looking at the history of the justice system in America and how it has impacted society and people. The first of five sessions takes place at noon on Friday, Jan. 19.

The Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site is more than a former prison-turned-museum and occasional haunted house: It's also an educational hub in Philly to learn about the criminal justice system and mass incarceration. With its new virtual discussion series called Justice 101, the organization is expanding its programming to the rest of the country.

Justice 101 comes from the Center of Justice Education at the historic site. The former prison has hosted exhibits, tours and educational programming about the modern-day justice system since 2012, starting with The Searchlight Series, monthly lectures that took place at the penitentiary.

MORE: Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site to host after-hours tours in honor of the writer's 215th birthday

From exhibits such as The Big Graph and events like the Reentry Simulation, the Eastern State has experimented with various formats. Justice 101, however, will take place virtually through Zoom. Sessions are free but attendees are asked to register through Eastern State's website.

"One thing that makes Justice 101 unique from these other offerings is its national reach," said Kerry Sautner, president and CEO of Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site. "Because the program takes place virtually, we are able to convene expert guest speakers and attendees from all around the country."

Friday, Jan. 19, will mark the start of the Justice 101 series, with a program titled "Conversation on Civil Rights Movements within Prisons with Hasan Jeffries."

Jeffries is a professor at Ohio State University and Sautner will moderate the discussion. After a 30-minute dialogue, a Q&A session will allow live attendees to ask the speaker their own questions. The program starts at 12 p.m.

With this first program taking place the week of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the conversation between Jeffries and Sautner will focus on the "complexities of civil disobedience as a force for transformative social change." Jeffries, who is the brother of U.S. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, will touch on how civil disobedience and incarceration intertwine and speak on civil rights leaders who were imprisoned and incarcerated individuals who later became civil rights figures.

In addition to teaching, Jeffries hosted the Southern Poverty Law Center podcast "Teaching Hard History," about lessons that often aren't taught in school spanning from slavery through the Civil Rights Movement to the modern day. He also participated in last year's PBS documentary "Fight the Power," about the history of hip hop and how it reflects the experiences of Black and brown communities in the U.S.

Subsequent programs is Justice 101 series will follow a similar format to the debut session, with a special guest leading the conversation moderated by an Eastern State staff member. Those unable to attend these live discussions can watch later on Eastern State's YouTube channel.

For Sautner, the virtual format is key for accessibility. "Our intention is to provide national programming, and conducting Justice 101 virtually makes that feasible," she said. "Justice 101 is designed to be accessible — it's appropriate for learners of all ages; for systems-impacted people, those without any connection to the criminal legal system whatsoever, and everyone in between."

As the series is brand-new, expect the site to test out different times, topics and attendance options as it continues.

For now, Eastern State Penitentiary has programming lined up through May of this year, with monthly programs to continue afterward through the end of the year and beyond. "We have a really exciting lineup of Justice 101 programs coming up this winter and spring, convening national experts for thought-provoking conversations about policing in America, women behind bars, forced prison labor, and other issues facing the justice system," said Sautner.

Justice 101

Multiple Dates and times:

• Jan. 19, 12 p.m. – Conversation on Civil Rights Movements within Prisons
• Feb. 22, 2 p.m. – Does the First Amendment Apply in Prisons?
• March 18, 11 a.m. – Women Behind Bars: Navigating Mass Incarceration
• April 17, 6:30 p.m. – Exploring the 13th Amendment and the Persistence of Forced Labor in Prisons
• May 13, 1 p.m. – Policing in America: Navigating the 4th Amendment, Stop and Frisk, and Civil Rights
Hosted by Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site
Virtual | Free to attend