John Jay College Announces Recipients of the 2011 John Jay Justice Awards

December 7, 2010 | John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Jeremy Travis, President of John Jay College of Criminal Justice today announced the winners of the 2011 John Jay Justice Awards, honoring the contributions of three innovative and inspiring individuals whose works exemplify dedication to the cause of justice.

“Each year through the John Jay Medal for Justice Awards program we recognize one outstanding global leader, one national leader and one community leader for their extraordinary contributions to justice,” said John Jay President Jeremy Travis. “They affirm the commitment of John Jay the man and John Jay College to strengthen society’s social fabric through justice and civic engagement.”

The John Jay Medal for Justice was created in 2008 to honor individuals and organizations that exemplify dedication to the cause of justice. The Hon. Judith Kaye was the first recipient. The 2009 recipients were Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, BJ Bernstein, a prominent Atlanta attorney and the NYU Brennan Center for Justice. The 2010 recipients were Leymah Gbowee in recognition of her extraordinary commitment to mobilizing women to stop the war in Liberia; The Innocence Project in acknowledgement of the Project’s commitment to freeing wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice; Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project in recognition of their commitment to legally representing indigent individuals detained in Arizona for immigration removal proceedings.

The Awards Ceremony will take place on April 5, 2011 at The CUNY Graduate Center.

The 2011 John Jay Medal for Justice Award recipients are:

Global Leader Award: Sunitha Krishnan, founder and president of Prajwala.

For her work with sex-trafficking victims and other forms of sexual violence

Sunitha Krishnan works inside the bleak netherworld of human sex slavery in Indian slums.  The organization she founded, Prajwala, runs shelters for sex-trafficking victims in the Indian city of Hyderabad. 

Sex trafficking and forced prostitution are massive industries in India. Precise numbers are hard to come by, but the Indian government estimates that the country has almost 3 million sex workers, more than a third of whom started as children. The southern state of Andhra Pradesh, where Hyderabad is located, is one of the country’s largest suppliers of women and girls, due partly to its overwhelming poverty and lower-than-average literacy rate.

Krishnan co-founded Prajwala, which means “eternal flame,” in 1996 with Brother Jose Vetticatil, a Catholic missionary who died in 2005. They started by creating a school for the children of sex workers in a former Hyderabad brothel. Initially, they had five students. Today, they’re working with 5,000. Over 4,000 women and children have passed through Prajwala after being rescued from trafficking, and Krishnan estimates that 3,800 have been rehabilitated, meaning they’ve been restored to some semblance of a normal life. 

In collaboration with UN agencies and other NGOs, she established printing and furniture shops that have rehabilitated some 300 survivors. Krishnan works closely with the government to define anti-trafficking policy, and her recommendations for rehabilitating sex victims have been passed into state legislation.

National Leader Award: Children’s Defense Fund and founder/president Marian Wright Edelman

For her commitment to improving the lives of all children

The Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) is a non-profit child advocacy organization that has worked relentlessly for 35 years to ensure a level playing field for all children. They champion policies and programs that lift children out of poverty; protect them from abuse and neglect; and ensure their access to health care, quality education and a moral and spiritual foundation. The CDF advocates nationwide on behalf of children to ensure children are always a priority. The CDF pays particular attention to the needs of poor and minority children, and those with disabilities. 

Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the CDF, has been an advocate for disadvantaged Americans for her entire professional life.  Under her leadership, CDF has become the nation’s strongest voice for children and families.  The Children’s Defense Fund’s Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.

In particular, we are honoring the CDF and Ms. Edelman for their work highlighting what they have branded as the “Cradle to Prison Pipeline,” namely the ways that our schools, juvenile and criminal justice system have become overly punitive and are tracking a high percentage of minority youth into the nation’s high rates of incarceration.  The Fund has focused on school discipline policies, overly punitive juvenile detention systems and police-youth relations. Ms. Edelman has become a passionate national advocate for juvenile justice reform.

Community Leader Award:  Tom Dart, Sheriff, Cook County, IL.

For his humane and innovative approach to enforcement of the law during difficult economic times

In just two years as Cook County Sheriff, Tom Dart has brought an aggressive yet innovative approach to law enforcement.  Dart received national attention in 2008 when, at the height of the mortgage foreclosure crisis, he announced his deputies would no longer conduct evictions until greater safeguards could be put in place to protect tenants. That stand resulted in new rules that banks must follow before deputies will carry out an eviction order. Those new rules include requirements that banks sign a sworn affidavit affirming all tenants of a home have received proper notification of – and been given time to appeal – an eviction.  Sheriff Dart has also assigned a staff attorney to investigate potential cases of mortgage fraud, while also assigning a social worker to begin going out with eviction teams, in hopes of linking those families with social service agencies.

This unique approach drew international attention and earned Dart an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the foreclosure crisis via forums such as CNN, MSNB C, Fox News and the BBC.  Dart also testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, providing details to senators about how the foreclosure crisis is impacting Cook County neighborhoods. Those bold steps led Time magazine to designate Dart as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2009.  Although the recession has officially ended, the mortgage crisis is far from over and continues to affect millions of Americans.   Sheriff Dart ‘s efforts underscore the importance of taking a humane approach to the enforcement of the law.

Dart again made worldwide headlines in March 2009 when he filed a federal lawsuit against the popular website Craigslist, accusing its owners of creating a public nuisance through its “erotic services” section. Dart cited the number of human trafficking and juvenile prostitution arrests his vice-officers have made in calling for the change. Just two months later, amid growing national pressure, Craigslist’s administrators relented and made the very changes Dart demanded.  Continuing that fight, Dart established a first-of-its-kind prostitution intervention team, which has drawn nationwide interest.

The college would like to offer special thanks to Richard J. Tarlow, a member of the John Jay College Foundation Board, for graciously underwriting the Justice Award Ceremony. The selection of the John Jay Justice Award Recipients was determined by a Committee of the John Jay College Foundation Board.

About John Jay College of Criminal Justice: An international leader in educating for justice, John Jay College of Criminal Justice of The City University of New York offers a rich liberal arts and professional studies curriculum to upwards of 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students from more than 135 nations. In teaching, scholarship and research, the College approaches justice as an applied art and science in service to society and as an ongoing conversation about fundamental human desires for fairness, equality and the rule of law. For more information, visit www.jjay.cuny.edu.

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For more information, contact:

Chris Godek, 212-237-8628

Doreen Vinas-Pineda, 212-237-8645