NEW YORK—To coincide with the recently opened play, "The Exonerated," the Open Society Institute announced a series of "Talk Back" discussions after selected performances, where justice advocates and death penalty experts from across the country will speak and field questions from the theater audience.
George Soros' OSI, which has supported the New York production of the play, is also sponsoring the Talk Back series in hopes of drawing more attention to public debate around the death penalty in America. "The Exonerated" is supported by collaborative funding from OSI's U.S. Programs Arts Initiative and the Gideon Project. All of the participating Talk Back speakers and organizations are grantees of the Gideon Project.
Through its grantmaking, OSI's Gideon Project promotes the fair administration of justice to improve public defense services, increase prosecutorial accountability, combat racial profiling, and end the death penalty. The Arts Initiative seeks to stimulate dialogue and support programming that explores the role of the arts in building communities and furthering open society.
"The Exonerated," a powerful play that dramatizes the experiences of several wrongfully convicted death row inmates, features a rotating cast including Harry Belafonte, Richard Dreyfuss, Mia Farrow, Jeff Goldblum, and Susan Sarandon, among others. It is playing at the Bleeker Street Theater. Following is a schedule of the Talk Back series:
Tuesday, October 15, 2002: Joyce Ann Brown, Executive Director
Mothers (Fathers) for the Advancement of Social Systems (MASS). Joyce Ann Brown's vision to build an organization was born in l989 when she was released from prison after serving more than nine years for a crime she did not commit. Realizing that her release was promulgated by Centurion Ministries and extensive news coverage by "60 Minutes" and the Dallas Morning News, her resolve to help others was born. When MASS began in 1990, her initial goal was to support the wrongfully convicted. But her passion to assist others who had lost their voice in the community soon led her to expand the mission of the organization to include helping ex-offenders and their families become self-sufficient law-abiding citizens. Currently she is serving over 200 clients and their families. Her book, "Justice Denied" is currently being developed for a made-for-TV movie on the Lifetime Network.
Saturday, October 19, 2002: Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director
Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama (EJI). EJI is a private, nonprofit organization that provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system. EJI litigates on behalf of condemned prisoners, juvenile offenders, innocent people wrongly convicted or charged with violent crimes, poor people denied effective representation, and others whose trials are marked by racial bias or prosecutorial misconduct. EJI works with communities that have been marginalized by poverty and discouraged by unequal treatment. EJI also prepares reports, newsletters and manuals to assist advocates and policymakers in the critically important work of reforming the administration of criminal justice.
Tuesday, October 29, 2002: Stephen Bright, Executive Director
Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR). SCHR is a non-profit legal center based in Atlanta, Georgia. From its founding in 1976, SCHR has defended capital cases and engaged in prison reform litigation throughout the South. In recent years, the Center has expanded its advocacy through proactive use of impact litigation, the media, and community organizing, and has subsequently spearheaded the movement for indigent defense reform in Georgia. In addition, SCHR advocates for greater independence of the judiciary and against the abusive practices by private prison contractors.
Wednesday, October 30, 2002: Steve Hawkins, Executive Director
National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP). Since its inception in 1976, NCADP has been the only fully staffed national organization exclusively devoted to abolishing capital punishment. NCADP provides information, advocates for public policy, and mobilizes and supports individuals and institutions that share our unconditional rejection of capital punishment.
Tuesday, November 5, 2002: Richard Dieter, Executive Director
Death Penalty Information Center. The Death Penalty Information Center is a non-profit organization serving the media and the public with analysis and information on issues concerning capital punishment. The Center was founded in 1990 and prepares in-depth reports, issues press releases, conducts briefings for journalists, and serves as a resource to those working on this issue. The Center is widely quoted and consulted by all those concerned with the death penalty. The Executive Director is Richard C. Dieter, an attorney who has written and spoken extensively on this subject.
Tuesday, November 12, 2002: Jim Marcus, Executive Director
Texas Defender Service (TDS). TDS is a nonprofit law office based in Houston. Since 1995, TDS has provided direct representation to indigent inmates on Texas's death row, consulted with other lawyers litigating such cases, and intervened in unusual cases where expert legal assistance was urgently needed.
Tuesday, November 19, 2002: Virginia Sloan, Executive Director
The Constitution Project. The Constitution Project, launched in 1997 and based in Washington, D.C., specializes in creating bipartisan consensus on controversial legal and governance issues. In 2000, the Constitution Project launched its Death Penalty Initiative, which includes a blue-ribbon committee concerned about wrongful executions. The Committee includes both proponents and opponents of the death penalty, and so did not consider abolition. In the future, however, the committee may consider a moratorium or other recommendations.
The Open Society Institute, a private operating and grantmaking foundation, is part of the network of foundations, created and funded by George Soros, active in more than 50 countries around the world.
OSI's U.S. Programs seek to strengthen democracy in the United States by addressing barriers to opportunity and justice, broadening public discussion about such barriers, and assisting marginalized groups to participate equally in civil society and to make their voices heard. OSI U.S. Programs challenges over-reliance on the market by advocating appropriate government responsibility for human needs and promoting public interest and service values. OSI U.S. Programs supports initiatives in a range of areas including access to justice for low and moderate income people; judicial independence; ending the death penalty; reducing gun violence and over-reliance on incarceration; drug policy reform; inner-city education and youth programs; fair treatment of immigrants; reproductive health and choice; campaign finance reform; and improved care of the dying.