Groups to launch criminal justice reform initiative

The Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity (Coalition) and the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC (JCRC/AJC) will host “Sentence Served — Exploring Barriers to Reentry” at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 5, at NOAH Event Venue, 26100 Northwestern Highway in Southfield.

The event will focus on the barriers that formerly incarcerated individuals must navigate following their release from prison.

The program will feature a panel of experts, including those who have been incarcerated or close to someone who was, who will discuss what they personally have experienced, challenges and opportunities for change.

Moderated by Jacob Smith, co-founder of “The Returning Citizen” podcast and JCRC/AJC board member, panelists will include:

• Margrit Allen, Detroit director of the Center for Employment Opportunities, which focuses on providing job pathways for the formerly incarcerated population;

• Aaron Kinzel, professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Specializing in corrections and public policy, he grew up in a life of crime, being locked up in multiple juvenile detention facilities and, later, spending more than half of a 19-year sentence in adult correctional facilities; and

• Michelle Smart, founder of Bags to Butterflies, which empowers formerly incarcerated women with transitional employment, resources and a caring network immediately upon their return to the community from incarceration.

The event marks the official launch of the Coalition and JCRC/AJC’s joint criminal justice reform initiative.

“Reentry is an issue of the utmost importance,” said Rev. Deedee Coleman of Russell Street Missionary Baptist Church and co-chair of the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity. “How we treat the vulnerable is the measure of who we are as individuals and as a nation.

“These individuals are parents, children and siblings who have served their time. Now we must make sure that they have a place to land.”

Smith noted that U.S. “has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.

“More than 10,000 individuals in the U.S. return from prison every week to rejoin us as neighbors,” he said. “When able to find work, housing and other basic support, they’re drastically less likely to commit more crime. We all win when we reduce barriers and help these returning citizens be successful.”

There is no charge to attend and a dessert reception will follow.

Registration, which is encouraged as seating is limited, can be completed by visiting For additional information, contact Lauren Herrin at