Published on February 14, 2023 by Morgan Black
On Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023, Samford University Cumberland School of Law and its Black Law Students Association, with support from Samford's Office of Diversity and Intercultural Initiatives, presented the 29th Annual Thurgood Marshall Symposium. Year after year, the symposium provides an outlet for hosting speakers that honor the legacy of Justice Thurgood Marshall by addressing historical and contemporary issues affecting minority communities.
The 2023 keynote speaker, Andrea Armstrong, is a leading national expert on prison and jail conditions and is certified by the U.S. Department of Justice as a Prison Rape Elimination Act auditor. During the symposium discussion titled “Incarceration: A Look Behind the Bars,” Armstrong addressed the inhumane and unconstitutional prison and jail conditions in the United States.
Armstrong led with an appropriate quote by Justice Marshall to set the tone for the discussion: “If anything, the needs for identity and self-respect are more compelling in the dehumanizing prison environment.” Continuing, she shared details about labor under intolerable conditions that does not prepare incarcerated individuals for the working community upon release, as well as the inadequate physical and mental health care available to them.
A distinguished professor of law at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law and the lead investigator for the Deaths Behind Bars in Louisiana project, Armstrong is also the founder of the nonprofit organization Incarceration Transparency and incarcerationtransparency.org. During the symposium, she discussed this database which provides facility-level deaths behind bars data and analysis for Louisiana and memorializes lives lost behind bars. She runs this project with a group of law students.
Cumberland School of Law second-year students Mercedes Davis and Brittney Sanders served as the 2023 chair and co-chair, respectively.
They said, “It was an absolute honor to have Professor Andrea Armstrong come speak at this year’s Thurgood Marshall Symposium. Her lecture promoted public awareness to the human rights issue of prison and jail conditions, and her discussion allowed for participants to be vulnerable in sharing their experiences with our Alabama prisons. Professor Armstrong’s work is so necessary, and our hope is that this symposium inspired those in our community to get involved in prison reform.”
Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.