As criminal justice reform has become a hot topic, Saturday's Gamechanger Ideas Festival is covering the subject full bore.

"At a time when our country is so polarized, we feel it's important to bring people together to connect and move forward around ideas that will bring positive change," said Brenna Gerhardt, executive director of the North Dakota Humanities Council.

From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Belle Mehus Auditorium in Bismarck, the festival will feature speakers, panel discussion and a theatrical performance, all focused on criminal justice.

"We selected the speakers based on their areas of expertise," Gerhardt said. "Not all of them agree with each other, but they all bring something interesting and thought-provoking to the table."

Investigative journalist Eric Schlosser will moderate the day. He also participated in last year's Pulitzer Prize-themed event, discussing his book on the history of America's nuclear arsenal.

Now he's writing a book about prisons and said North Dakota is a fine example of current reforms in criminal justice and corrections.

"I think it's one of the most important issues facing the United States," Schlosser said. "It doesn't get anywhere near enough attention, and I think North Dakota is a terrific place to be having these conversations since the governor of North Dakota and the department of corrections are enacting some of the most interesting criminal justice reforms in the country and seem to be committed to it."

Schlosser said discussion will be opposing at times but shouldn't be political. A number of topics face criminal justice practices, from addiction treatment to behavioral health to length of incarceration.

"I think it's really about what works and how do we get common sense into a debate that too often is too emotional and too often devoid from reality," he said.

Gerhardt said Saturday's event is all about the interaction of ideas. Schlosser agreed and reiterated the value of North Dakota as the event's venue.

"This is an extraordinarily beautiful state, and the people I've met have been incredible because of the change that is happening in this state," he said. "It's a beautiful place to have this discussion."

More information on the event is available online at General admission is $75. Special rates are available. Registration is at 8 a.m. Saturday or online.


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