Crime & Courts

Prison reform gets public spotlight

An upcoming forum with local leaders and state legislators will focus on jail and prison reform.

The town hall-type forum May 1 will feature keynote speaker David Wilkinson, founder of the Advocacy Coalition of Kansas, a group for formerly incarcerated people.

Sponsored by Justice Keepers of Wichita, Woman to Woman, and Families First of Wichita, the forum also will include comments from people who have been incarcerated.

The purpose of the forum, Justice Keepers founder Juanita Blackmon said, is to shine a light on issues such as jail overcrowding, sentencing disparities, recidivism, wrongful convictions and judicial and prosecutorial misconduct.

She said panelists will include Rep. Melody McCray Miller, D-Wichita; Sedgwick County Commissioner Gwen Welshimer; Sedgwick County Sheriff Robert Hinshaw; former Wichita school board member and County Commission candidate Betty Arnold; a representative from the Kansas Parole Board; and Kevin Myles, president of the Kansas State Conference of NAACP Branches and the Wichita Branch of the NAACP.

The forum will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Wichita. It will focus first on problems in the criminal justice system and then on solutions.

Wilkinson, whose presentation is "Using the Master's Tools — Making Change Happen," said he's looking forward to the forum,

"I'm going to talk about how we empower people to make their voices heard and be effective advocates to solve their own life problems, not relying on the system but relying on ourselves," he said.

The forum is free. Donations will be accepted to cover the costs of an on-site lunch.