2009 Press Releases

1.6.2009: ACLU Gives Award to Norris Henderson, Advocate for Safe Streets

NEW ORLEANS - The ACLU of Louisiana will give its 33rd annual Ben Smith award to Norris Henderson of Safe Streets Strong Communities in New Orleans. This award is given annually to someone with a demonstrated commitment to the advancement of civil liberties in Louisiana. The award is named for the late Ben Smith, a founder of the ACLU of Louisiana and a civil rights lawyer.

Norris Henderson's commitment to civil liberties comes from an unusual set of experiences, having been wrongfully incarcerated for over 27 years in the Louisiana Prison System In prison, Norris became an effective self-taught paralegal and "jailhouse lawyer," filing important cases on behalf of other inmates. For years he devoted his energies to securing rights not just for himself but for others in prison.

Since his release in 2003, Norris has dedicated himself to the rights of the formerly incarcerated and to the safety of the New Orleans area. In 2004, he incorporated Voice of the Ex-Offender (VOTE), a nonprofit organization designed to educate, organize and mobilize formerly incarcerated persons around their right to vote in Louisiana. He is also a former Soros Justice Fellow and co-director of Safe Streets/Strong Communities, promoting community organizing and advocacy to transform the criminal justice system in New Orleans to one that is fair, safe and accountable to all regardless of race and economic status. In this work Norris has achieved significant wins and has built bridges with other organizations, acting as the Safe Streets representative in a city-wide coalition on race and criminalization. He also regularly speaks publicly in support of the underprivileged, immigrant workers' rights, and the rights of the under-served. Sharing his first hand experience of racism and brutality in the criminal justice system, Norris has affected public policy and public discourse about police accountability, public defense for poor and indigent people, and reforms to the notorious Orleans Parish Prison (OPP).

"Norris Henderson is an inspiration to those concerned with the rights of the unrepresented and voiceless," said ACLU Executive Director Marjorie R. Esman. His courage, compassion, and self-effacing quiet dignity represent the best of Louisiana. We're proud to honor Norris and to include him among Louisiana's great civil libertarians."

The dinner honoring Norris Henderson will be held on February 28, 2009. Information is available at admin@laaclu.org and by visiting our Events section.