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Prison Reform Activist Journeys to Rethink the Meaning of Justice

What is justice? Why do almost all societies, globally speaking, equate it with prison? Are prison and punishment the only way to create safe communities—and is punishment morally right? Why are prisons—from the US to South Africa, Brazil to Australia—overwhelmingly dominated by people of color?

As a justice worker, educator, author and Global Fulbright Scholar, Dr. Baz Dreisinger tackles these profound questions in a US context as well as a global one.baz-dreisinger-prison-reform-speaker-wolfman-productions

Beginning in Africa and ending in Europe, Dr. Dreisinger’s acclaimed book Incarceration Nations—hailed by The New York Times, The Washington Post, C-Span, NPR and many more—is a first-person odyssey through the prison systems of the world. Professor, journalist, Founder of the Prison-to-College-Pipeline program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and now Executive Director of the Incarceration Nations Network, Dr. Dreisinger looks into the human stories of incarcerated men and women and those who imprison them, creating a jarring, poignant view of a world to which most are denied access, and a rethinking of one of America’s most far-reaching global exports: the modern prison complex.

From serving as a restorative justice facilitator in a notorious South African prison and working with genocide survivors in Rwanda, to launching a creative writing class in an overcrowded Ugandan prison and coordinating a drama workshop for women prisoners in Thailand, Dr. Dreisinger examines the world behind bars with equal parts empathy and intellect. She journeys 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 to ultimately conclude with climactic lessons about the past, present, and future of justice.

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Based in the English department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, Dr. Dreisinger is the Founder of the college’s groundbreaking Prison-to-College Pipeline program, which offers college courses and reentry planning to incarcerated men throughout New York State, and broadly works to increase access to higher education for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals. The P2CP—which has been hailed as game-changing in profiles on PBS and Al Jazeera, and given laudatory coverage in two prominent cover stories in the New York Times—represents an unprecedented partnership between the Department of Corrections and one of the largest public universities in the world. In 2016, as part of President Obama’s Second Chance Pell Grant initiative, it was named a federal grantee and thus continues to expand throughout New York State. Dr. Dreisinger has been teaching inside prisons for over a decade.

As a journalist and critic, Dr. Dreisinger has for two decades written about race-related issues, global culture, music and pop culture for such outlets as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and ForbesLife, among many others; she also produces on-air segments about music and world culture for National Public Radio (NPR). Together with Oscar-nominated filmmaker Peter Spirer, Professor Dreisinger produced and wrote the documentaries Black & Blue: Legends of the Hip-Hop Cop, which investigates the New York Police Department’s monitoring of the hip-hop industry, and Rhyme & Punishment, about hip-hop and the prison industrial complex. Dr. Dreisinger earned her Ph.D. in English from Columbia University, where she specialized in African-American studies and critical race theory. Her first book Near Black: White-to-Black Passing in American Culture, a cultural history of whites who pass as black, was featured in the New York Times Book Review and on National Public Radio and CNN. Her wide-ranging speaking engagements have taken her from California and China to Indonesia and Australia, from universities and cultural festivals to television studios and global classrooms behind bars and in the free world.

Dr. Dreisinger was named a Fulbright Global Scholar in 2018, which supported her travel to Rwanda, South Africa and Chile in order to launch the Incarceration Nations Network (INN), the first-ever global network and think tank that supports, instigates and popularizes innovative prison reform efforts around the world. Via INN Dr. Dreisinger is able to: collaborate with prison and university systems in South Africa, Jamaica, Trinidad and Brazil to launch Prison-to-College Pipeline programs; build a multimedia web database platform that showcases global justice and prison-reform work; orchestrate massive Global Gatherings that build coalition among worldwide justice workers and amplify their efforts; and produce a series of short films about global mass incarceration.

A major initiative of INN is The Writing on the Wall, a partnership with the acclaimed visual artist and Guggenheim Fellow Hank Willis Thomas, the nonprofit architecture firm MASS Design Group and the production team Openbox. A pop-up art installation made from writing by people in prison around the world, The Writing on the Wall raises awareness about mass incarceration, centers the words of those directly impacted at the heart of the fight for prison reimagining and is displayed in public spaces as a form of verbal and visual intrusion. Each debut The Writing on the Wall is an event and ongoing campaign, coordinated in collaboration with local justice reform organizations and led by formerly incarcerated community leaders. It has thus far been exhibited in New York City on the High Line park—the most trafficked public park in the world—as well as in Detroit, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Miami

For more information on booking Baz Dreisinger, contact Scott Wolfman

 

“… She is visionary, and the students were held by her every word. I think she made a lot of fans on this visit who will take her ideas out into society…” – Margaret Ducharme, Ph.D., Chair, Arts and Sciences Department – Vaughn College of Aeronautics & Technology

“Everything went extremely well, both at the reception and the keynote. Her talk at both was perfect for both audiences. Everyone was giving her rave reviews…I optimistically had 900 programs printed. Should have printed more because we ran out. My final estimation is an audience of 1000…all in all, I’d have to say that she’s a rock star!” – Dr. Emerson D. Case,  Coordinator, First-Year Experience Program – California State University, Bakersfield

“It was great! She’s such an engaging speaker and the topic brought out a lot of students and community folks which is just what I was hoping for.” – Liz Kicak, M.F.A., Director, USF Humanities Institute – University of South Florida

“Dr. Dreisinger [is] a popular professor and a spirited voice in the prison reform movement” –The New York Times

“[Baz Dreisinger’s] maternal turmoil when her students are denied parole, rearrested, shot, deprived of opportunity or go missing, as well as her teacherly pride in their successes, is the genuine heart of [this] story…The hopeful note on which this book ends… seems in no small part due to the wish that even our harsh system of punishment can explore connections to the world in ways that can push us for the better. – The New York Times Book Review



“Norway might as well be another galaxy, considering the description offered in Baz Dreisinger’s intriguing new book, Incarceration Nations…The great gift of Incarceration Nations is that, by introducing a wide range of approaches to crime, punishment and questions of justice in diverse countries — Rwanda, South Africa, Brazil, Jamaica, Uganda, Singapore, Australia and Norway — it forces us to face the reality that American-style punishment has been chosen. It is not normal, natural or inevitable…To be clear, this is not a typical criminal justice reform book stocked with data, policy analyses and prescriptions for change. Nor is it written by a criminal justice expert…The heart and soul of this book are the stories of the people [Dreisinger] encounters along the way.” – The Washington Post

 

Incarceration Nations…is a book about hope, inspiration, and new beginnings.” – Huffington Post

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