Meeting new board members: Michael Leo Owens

by Leah Sakala, March 13, 2014

Michael Leo Owens

We are thrilled that Professor Michael Leo Owens has joined our Board of Directors this year. Professor Owens teaches in the Political Science department of Emory University, and specializes in urban, state and local politics, political penology, governance and public policy processes, religion and politics, and African American politics. We asked him a few questions about his work and involvement with PPI:

Why did you decide to join the PPI board?

Michael Leo Owens: As the piece of political science wisdom goes, “People participate when they can, when they want to, or when they’re asked.” My participation with PPI’s board covers all three bases! And I made a deliberate decision to leave another board of directors for PPI’s board. The switch is a better fit of interests, passions, and concerns.

What does your work focus on?

MLO: I’m a scholar of American politics and pubic policy. The politics of punishment and the civic effects of mass incarceration fill a big portion of my research, teaching, and service portfolio. In particular, I’m writing a book, Prisoners of Democracy, about the ways in which punitive public policies and ambivalent public opinion diminish the citizenship of people with felony convictions and undermine the positive reintegration of formerly incarcerated people. Additionally, I serve on the advisory boards of two other organizations that confront the challenges and consequences of “penal harm” – the Georgia Justice Project and Foreverfamily. The former provides defense counsel, social services, and advocacy for indigent persons. The latter, formerly known as Aid to Children of Imprisoned Mothers, is an Atlanta-based but national youth development organization, one that among other activities provides children with monthly visitations with their incarcerated parents.

What do you think is most unique about the Prison Policy Initiative and the projects it takes on?

MLO: What makes PPI unique is its moxie. It takes on BIG issues for a small organization and it’s successful in tackling them. Plus, by using data in a democratic way it increases the likelihood of community-based groups getting involved and taking the lead on their own behalf. Few data-driven organizations truly empower other groups. I’m glad PPI is one of them.

What’s something that you wish more people knew about the Prison Policy Initiative?

MLO: I wish more people knew that PPI is about more than prison gerrymandering. I also wish that more policymakers, especially in the South, knew of its existence and successes at making criminal justice more just and effective.

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