May 13, 2014

Criminal Justice Advocate Wins ACS’s David Carliner Public Interest Award

David Carliner Public Interest Award, Peter J. Wagner






Peter J. Wagner of Prison Policy Initiative Works to Reform Mass Incarceration


Nicholas Alexiou, ACS Associate Director for Network Communications

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Peter J. Wagner, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Prison Policy Initiative, will be awarded the American Constitution Society’s (ACS) David Carliner Public Interest Award at the 2014 ACS National Convention.

The award, given annually to a mid-career public interest lawyer, will be presented to Wagner at the Convention’s June 19 Gala Dinner and includes a $10,000 prize; it honors a mid-career attorney whose work best exemplifies David Carliner’s legacy of fearless, uncompromising and creative advocacy on behalf of marginalized people. Carliner was a pioneering immigration attorney who served as the founding chair of the American Civil Liberties Union-National Capital Area and the International Human Rights Law Group. Barbara Graves-Poller of MFY Legal Services was named a finalist and will receive $2,500.

Wagner co-founded Prison Policy Initiative in 2001 and has helped grow it to a nationally recognized think tank that highlights the pervasive impact that mass incarceration in the U.S. can have on the economy, the electoral process and even interpersonal relationships. Among its numerous achievements, Prison Policy Initiative has led the charge against prison gerrymandering, working with states such as Maryland to end the practice that gives outsized political clout to legislative districts that contain prisons. Dr. Heather Ann Thompson, Associate Professor of History at Temple University, has said that Wagner was the first to notice that the high levels of incarceration in the U.S. had “directly and structurally undermined our American democracy.” She notes that Wagner’s work is “changing the course of history by calling attention to, and actually overturning, a serious civil rights injustice: prison gerrymandering.”

He has also been hired by a range of organizations including the ACLU of Michigan, the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and the Southern Center for Human Rights as a geographic expert, testifying in cases challenging stringent laws limiting the rights of those listed on sex offender registries. Wagner has also served as an Instructor at Smith College, teaching courses on constitutional law and the prison industrial complex. In 2013, he was given the Champion of State Criminal Justice Reform Award by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

The judges for this year’s David Carliner Public Interest Award were Nan Aron, Executive Director, Alliance for Justice; Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Daniel P. S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law and Professor of History at Harvard University; William Fletcher, Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; Patricia Wald, former Chief Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit; Deborah Carliner, President, American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital; and Sarah Remes, attorney, DC Volunteer Lawyers Program.

The past recipients of the Carliner Public Interest Award are: Kara Hartzler, Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc.; Janson Wu, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD); Tim Freilich, Immigrant Advocacy Program, Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville, Va.; Cathleen Caron, Global Workers Justice Alliance, Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Dori Rose Inda, Watsonville Law Center, Watsonville, Calif.

The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS), founded in 2001 and one of the nation's leading progressive legal organizations, is a rapidly growing network of lawyers, law students, scholars, judges, policymakers and other concerned individuals. For more information about the organization or to locate one of the more than 200 lawyer and law student chapters in 48 states, please visit