Published: March 3, 2022 By ,

On Wednesday, March 9, 2022 from 12-1pm MDT, Join the ASSETT Innovation Incubator Inclusive Data Science team and the Center for Research Data & Digital Scholarship (CRDDS) for a virtual panel discussion with Professor Andrea Armstrong, Professor Judson Mitchell and student collaborators from Loyola University New Orleans on their collaborative effort to create the Incarceration Transparency database. 

Register to Attend

The Incarceration Transparency project is a direct response to family members, advocates, and journalists seeking to understand the context in which a person died behind bars. With a mission to publicly share data and research to address significant harms from conditions of incarceration in Louisiana, the website hosts a database with an open data API that provides facility-level deaths behind bars — both who died and why they died. 

“At this project’s core”, shares Meredith Booker who, as a student, helped launch the database project, “each point is a person, who came from a family and community. This has always been the grounding point for all who work on the project. Every individual who has died behind bars was first and foremost a person whose story deserves to be told and understood by the society who decided to send them to jail or prison”.

As Dr. Armstrong created a list for New Orleans and East Baton Rouge parish jails in partnership with the Promise of Justice Initiative she discovered that, without the broader context of deaths in other Louisiana jails, it was difficult to assess whether deaths in those two facilities were consistent with other jails or whether there were particular problems at those facilities that increased the risk of death.  Concurrently, law school pedagogy was increasingly turning towards experiential education and the benefits of "learning by doing." Filing public records requests and negotiating with government officials are two core skills that many lawyers use in practice, but are difficult to teach in a doctrinal classroom.  This project addressed these two gaps in knowledge — community knowledge on deaths and law student knowledge on public records/negotiation — by creating a seminar to obtain the records the community members needed.  

The database development forced Dr. Armstrong’s collaborative team of faculty and students to specifically identify which pieces of information for each death was important — calling upon the diverse areas of expertise of each team member.  Dr. Armstrong had little technical or coding expertise, yet she knew which data points would be most useful for identifying death trends and analysis.  Conversely, Dr. Mitchell had the technical expertise to create the database, but did not have the subject-matter expertise on incarceration conditions.  Student John Halfacre focused on making the data and information collected accessible to the general public.  While student Meredith Booker contributed her prior experience as a class participant to developing standard protocols for students contributing to the project and streamlining data collection. 

“The Incarceration Transparency is an incredible example of how we can leverage digital tools, open data, and data visualizations, to foster change where we know there is injustice”, comments Nickoal Eichmann-Kalwara, Director of Digital Scholarship, CRDDS. “Further, the project rehumanizes the people who died behind bars in Louisiana, through pictures and short biographies  — it’s powerful to see some of the faces and spirits behind the numbers.” .

Though the project is centered around death records and memorials for people who died behind bars, it also affirms the dignity of those who died by publicly acknowledging their deaths in society’s institutions.  For some families, with whom the team worked to provide additional information and records, the project provided the first in-depth knowledge of their loved one’s death. An embodiment of using research, expertise, and learning for the greater good, the database itself is free, publicly available and contains all of the original underlying documents, in hope that it will be helpful to other academic researchers as well.  

Meet the Panelists

presenter 2Professor Andrea Armstrong joined the Loyola University New Orleans, College of Law faculty in 2010 where she is a Law Visiting Committee Distinguished Professor of Law. She is a leading national expert on prison and jail conditions and is certified by the U.S. Department of Justice as a Prison Rape Elimination Act auditor. Prof. Armstrong founded, a website that provides facility-level deaths behind bars data and analysis for Louisiana and memorializes lives lost behind bars. Her research has been profiled by New Yorker Magazine and quoted in the New York Times, the Atlantic, National Public Radio, and the Times-Picayune among others. Her scholarship focuses on the constitutional dimensions of prisons and jails, specifically prison labor practices, the intersection of race and conditions of incarceration, and public oversight of detention facilities. She teaches in the related fields of incarceration law and policy, constitutional law, criminal law and procedure, law and poverty, and race and the law. Professor Armstrong is a graduate of Yale Law School (JD), the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs (MPA), and New York University (BA).  


R. Judson Mitchell is a Clinical Professor at Loyola College of Law, New Orleans. His areas of expertise are Criminal Defense and Technological Innovation in Law. Prof. Mitchell is the creator of the legal case management software, Clinic Cases, and he also designed and now teaches a unique Technology and Legal Innovation Clinic. The students in this clinic were instrumental in creating the Incarceration Transparency website and database.



John Halfacre is a 2020 graduate of Loyola University New Orleans, College of Law. While in law school, he participated in the technology and legal innovation clinic with Professor Mitchell and Professor Armstrong. Alongside his classmates, John worked directly on the design and content of the Incarceration Transparency website. John is currently a practicing attorney specializing in criminal defense and personal injury in the New Orleans area. Before attending law school, John founded a marketing company that provided search engine optimization and website design services for clients worldwide. John received his B.A. in Criminal Justice from Loyola University New Orleans in 2010, graduating Cum Laude. Before attending college, John served in the United States Coast Guard, conducting search and rescue and law enforcement missions. 


presenter 1Meredith Booker (she/her) is a third year law student at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law. Meredith has obtained a Master of Public Policy with a concentration in law, crime, and policy from Oregon State University and a B.S. in Criminal Justice and B.A. in Sociology from Wayne State University in Detroit, MI. Prior to law school, Meredith worked for U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley as a legislative aide on a variety of issues, including criminal justice, civil rights, and immigration. While in law school, Meredith has completed internships with Michigan Legal Services and the Detroit Justice Center, an externship with the Promise of Justice Initiative, has served on the board of the law school’s National Lawyers Guild chapter, and is now the Managing Editor, Online for the Loyola Law Review. Meredith took Professor Armstrong’s Incarceration Law course during the Fall of her 2L year and has continued to work with Professor Armstrong on the Incarceration Transparency project as her Research Assistant and Teaching Assistant for the course.