By Darla Shelden, City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP) will host its 2021 Virtual Annual Awards Program on Saturday, June 5. The fundraising event will be held at 5 p.m. online via Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prison educator, author, and exonerator, Howard is one of the country’s leading advocates for criminal justice and prison reform. Through the Prisons and Justice Initiative, Marc brings together scholars, practitioners, and students to examine and combat mass incarceration.
After hearing his story of innocence, Howard visited Julius Jones on Oklahoma’s death row in McAlester in October of 2019.
Following Howard’s trip to Oklahoma State Penitentiary, Howard posted on Facebook, “Anyone who seriously examines this case realizes that Julius Jones is innocent, yet the state of Oklahoma still plans to execute him. He was wrongfully convicted after a sham of a trial that had all the classic ingredients: vindictive prosecutor, racist jury, lying witness, and incompetent trial counsel.”
Making news this week,Georgetown University, under Howard’s leadership, will introduce a full bachelor’s degree program for aspiring students incarcerated within the Maryland state prison system.
“We are excited to build upon the success of the Prison Scholars Program and provide an opportunity for students to earn a college degree while incarcerated,” said Howard. .
“A degree from Georgetown and the interdisciplinary coursework behind it will prepare our graduates to reenter their communities and the workforce with pride in their academic achievements.”
According to a press release, under Howard’s leadership, the program creates a transformational education experience for highly motivated students during their incarceration. After their release, many returning citizens struggle to find employment due to their criminal record, a lack of formal education, and large gaps in resumes. The Prison Scholars Program equips them to overcome these hurdles and creates a pathway to financial stability and socioeconomic mobility.
More than 150 people have participated in the Prison Scholars Program at the D.C. Jail, both through credit-bearing and non-credit courses.
In his most recent book, Unusually Cruel: Prisons, Punishment, and the Real American Exceptionalism, Howard argues that the American criminal justice and prison systems are exceptional – “in a truly shameful way.”
OK-CADP chair, Rev. Don Heath stated, “We are excited to hear Marc Howard share his insights with us about the state of American prisons, including death row, as well as criminal justice reform.”
On March 8, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board granted a “stage two” commutation hearing to Jones, who has always maintained his innocence. His next hearing will take place in June.
During the June 5th event, OK-CADP will honor three members of the community with the group’s Abolitionist Awards.
The Phil Wahl Abolitionist of the Year Award will be given to community activist Jimmy Lawson, a Rose State College professor and longtime advocate who has worked tirelessly for the commutation of his best friend Julius Jones.
The Opio Toure Courageous Advocate Award will recognize the service of Emma Rolls, Chief of the Capital Habeas Unit, Federal Public Defender’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma.
Ok-CADP’s Lifetime Abolitionist Award will honor executive board member Leslie Fitzhugh. Having served at the Oklahoma Department of Corrections for 30 years, Fitzhugh’s opposition to the death penalty has continued through her work with the coalition. She has been an outspoken advocate for the innocence and commutation of Julius Jones, who has been on death row for over two decades.
Oklahoma has had a moratorium on the death penalty since October 2015 after the wrong drug was nearly used to execute death row prisoner Richard Glossip on September 30, 2015.
On February 13, 2020, state officials announced that Oklahoma would resume and return to the 3-drug lethal injection protocol previously used in the state’s infamous botched executions of Charles Warner and Clayton Lockett.
“As Oklahoma draws ever closer to begin setting execution dates, the coalition’s work continues,” Heath said.
Thirty-one of the 47 prisoners on Oklahoma’s death row have now exhausted all of their appeals.
To support the coalition’s mission, individual tickets for the OK-CADP 2021 Virtual Annual Awards Program can be purchased for $50, $20 for students. Sponsorships (8 tickets) are available for $400.
To purchase tickets online, visit okcadp.org. To order tickets by mail, send checks along with each guest’s name and email address to: OK-CADP, P.O. Box 713, Oklahoma City, OK 73101-0713.