Play for Justice at Putnamville Correctional Facility
Matt Kryger

Criminal Justice Reform Takes Center Court as Pacers Partner to Play For Justice

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana Pacers players, coaches, and team leadership spent Thursday afternoon at Putnamville Correctional Facility, engaging with prison residents in an effort to better understand how to address chronic disparities in the criminal justice system. Indiana's version of the national the Play For Justice program was a partnership with the Indiana Department of Correction, Represent Justice, the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, and The Last Mile and included a roundtable discussion and basketball game at the facility.

"Many of us recognize the deep systemic challenges in our criminal justice system, but meaningful change only happens when we humanize the powerful stories of those directly impacted by it," said Pacers Sports & Entertainment owner Steve Simon. "To hear directly from these men, who take responsibility for their actions and champion a more just system for future generations, reminds us of the need to continue to give a voice to those seeking a better way."

PHOTO GALLERY: Play for Justice at Putnamville Correctional Facility »

The program began with an intimate roundtable discussion between Pacers players and coaches and residents of the facility. The conversation was moderated by Sam Lewis, Executive Director of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition who himself is a former life prisoner and whose personal experiences within the system helped frame the dialogue around the need for ongoing reform. Participants shared their insights and stories, an opportunity to learn from each other and reshape their own perspectives about overincarceration and disproportionate representation in prisons around the country.

Following the roundtable discussion, residents took part in a basketball game in which Pacers players participated as coaches and spectators, cheering on their respective teams. Nearly 200 incarcerated residents attended the game, which included a halftime show, entertainment during time outs, music, and Boomer, the Pacers beloved mascot. A few Pacers staff members, such as former player and current color analyst Eddie Gill, even participated in the game itself.

"It was amazing to see the abundance of talent and artistry of the men inside be revealed and celebrated after such a challenging time for the incarcerated community, due to the pandemic," said Daniel Forkkio, CEO of Represent Justice. "We are grateful to the Pacers players and coaching staff for joining Represent Justice, Anti-Recidivism Coalition, The Last Mile, and PLUS ONE society and bringing hope and inspiration to the men inside today."

In partnership with Represent Justice, Anti-Recidivism Coalition and The Last Mile, produced by PLUS ONE society and executive produced by Kristen Ingram, Play for Justice uplifts stories of hope and redemption, to break down stigmas associated with individuals — disproportionately people of color and the poor — who are impacted by the criminal justice system. In select prison facilities, family members have been able to attend and watch the game in addition to celebrity guests, elected officials, media and other residents of the prison facility.

Past Play for Justice events have taken place with the Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings, Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers, and at All-Star 2020 in Chicago.

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