On October 19, 2016, the Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership at GSPIA gave its annual Emerging Leader Award to Alec Karakatsanis. Alec is the founder and executive director of Civil Rights Corps which provides pro bono legal services to those most in need and works to change the systemic issues that create unjustifiable inequalities in the criminal legal system. Prior to this, Alec co-founded Equal Justice Under Law, a non-profit organization dedicated to “ensuring that the legal system protects the important principles of human and civil rights, equality, and fairness.”
Alec received the award from Chancellor Emeritus Mark A. Nordenberg. In his remarks, Alec spoke about his pride in receiving such an award in his hometown, and dedicated his speech to his grandmother. But he felt that the people who should be the honored speakers are those who have been victims of the inequalities. Alec spoke passionately about what he considers the “human caging” of impoverished and people of color who are serving time in what is the equivalent of modern day debtors’ prisons due to the American money bail system. He shared heart wrenching stories of people he has met that are afraid to leave their homes in fear of being arrested for outstanding parking or traffic tickets. Alec’s eye-opening and fervent call for attention to the “criminal injustice system” was given a grand round of applause from all the 100 + audience members which included family, friends, former teachers from the Falk School and Winchester Thurston and the GSPIA community.
Alec’s speech was followed by a question and answer session with contributions from two panelists, Jasmine Gonzales Rose, Esq., Pitt School of Law and Frederick Thieman, Esq., Henry Buhl, Jr. Chair for Civic Leadership and former US attorney.