Community Conversation Race, Mass Incarceration, and the Private Prison Industry in Austin, Texas

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 6:30pm to 8:00pm
Dickey-Lawless Auditorium, Huston-Tillotson University

Grassroots Leadership, in partnership with Huston-Tillotson University and Pi Gamma Mu, will host a community conversation with Nicole D. Porter and Christopher Petrella on Race, Mass Incarceration, and Private Prisons. We are eager to welcome Nicole and Christopher to Austin, to learn from their research, and to dialogue together about how we organize to address these issues locally. See speakers' bios below.

For more information please contact Grassroots Leadership at 512-499-8111. 

Nicole Porter co-chairs Grassroots Leadership’s board and is the Director of Advocacy for the Sentencing Project in Washington, DC, Nicole is the former director of the Texas ACLU's Prison & Jail Accountability Project (PJAP). PJAP's mission was to monitor the conditions of confinement in Texas jails and prisons. Nicole’s policy focus is on mass incarceration and state sentencing policies and

 she recently published a paper on state prison closures. Her research was instrumental in supporting organizing and advocacy in Texas during the 2013 legislative session to close two privately operated prisons. Porter graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Master's Degree in Public Affairs from the LBJ School. Her master’s thesis addressed exploring self employment as an economic strategy among formerly incarcerated African Americans. Porter received her BA in International Affairs from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. She also studied African Politics at the University of Ghana, West Africa.



Christopher Petrella is a doctoral candidate in African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley currently writing a book-length manuscript entitled Courts, Contracts, and Corporate Corrections: The Paradox of the Private Prison State. He is eager to share the findings of his most recent research on racial disparities in private prisons, which has earned significant press coverage, including on Tavis Smiley’s radio broadcast, NPR, and Mother Jones.

 He's also co-directing a national campaign aimed at bringing transparency and accountability to the for-profit, private corrections industry. Christopher has collaborated with organizations including the ACLU's National Prison Project, Harvard Law School's Institute for Race & Justice, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Prison Legal News. He holds degrees from Bates College and Harvard University.


One of the things that stands out to me is the topic of mass incarceration. Why decide on a mass study? Isn’t the idea of being in prison supposed to be that of learning that if you mess up and commit a crime that things won’t be easy? If you put people together in a prison in a mass program, then they will be able to talk to numerous people at one time. Although prisoners can do this in typical prisons, this seems like an idea that is to get prisoners together for perhaps recreational purposes instead of the idea of what a prison is supposed to be about.