Racial and Economic Justice Group Wins 2019 Dodd Human Rights Prize

The Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
The Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

The Equal Justice Initiative and its founder Bryan Stevenson, which has worked to end mass incarceration and challenged racial and economic injustice for 30 years, will be awarded the Thomas J. Dodd Prize in International Justice and Human Rights at the University of Connecticut’s Thomas J. Dodd Research Center on November 6.

Headquartered in Montgomery, Ala., Equal Justice Initiative is a private, nonprofit organization that provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system and works to confront the history of racial injustice in America.

Bryan Stevenson (Paul Robertson Photo)
Bryan Stevenson (Paul Robertson Photo)

“The selection committee was singularly impressed by the commitment, courage, and creativity of Bryan Stevenson and his colleagues at the Equal Justice Initiative,” said Glenn Mitoma, Director of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. “I look forward to welcoming Bryan and Equal Justice Initiative to UConn, both to honor them and to draw inspiration for our own work at the Dodd Center.”

Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, has successfully argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including a recent historic decision that found mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children 17 or younger are unconstitutional.

“I’m deeply honored by this recognition and am grateful to all who believed me an appropriate candidate for the prize,” Stevenson said. “Defending people who are disfavored, condemned and incarcerated is not popular but I believe the values of equality, justice and fair treatment these cases often test is something we should all support.”

Under Stevenson’s direction, the organization has won major legal challenges to excessive sentencing and illegal convictions, including reversals, release, or relief for over 145 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row. The group’s education and advocacy efforts include the Community Remembrance Project, which seeks to recognize the victims of lynching by erecting historical markers at lynching sites, and the opening of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum. The museum and memorial are part of Equal Justice Initiative’s work to advance truth and reconciliation around race in America and to more honestly confront the legacy of slavery, lynching, and segregation.

“Bryan Stevenson is one of the great human rights champions of our time,” said Sen. Chris Dodd. “Eighty years ago, before my father confronted the evil of the Nazis in Nuremberg, he confronted the home-grown evil of racism in the 1930s. Today, the work of Bryan and the Equal Justice Initiative is among the most important efforts to address this continued scourge of racism and hate, and I know my father would be proud to recognize their incredible contributions to justice.”

Equal Justice Initiative and Stevenson are the ninth recipients of the Dodd Prize, which commemorates the work and example of Sen. Thomas J. Dodd, who served as executive trial counsel during the Nuremberg war crimes trials after World War II before embarking on a career in the U.S. House of Representatives (1953-1957) and the U.S. Senate (1959-1971). Past recipients of the prize include President Bill Clinton, former Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Committee to Protect Journalists. The prize includes a $100,000 award and a bronze bust of Sen. Thomas Dodd.