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Prison Studies Project


The Prison Studies Project, in collaboration with Boston University’s Prison Education Program and the MA Department of Correction, brings together students from Harvard and students in prison. Each is part of a curriculum for college credit; classes focus on urban sociology, race, ethics, and transformative learning.


The growth of America’s prison and jail populations over the last 35 years creates an array of new challenges for public policy and provokes a variety of questions about the quality of American democracy and citizenship. The Prison Studies Project conducts research to address these challenges and questions.


The Prison Studies Project aims to raise public awareness about incarceration in America, promote a perspective on criminal punishment that emphasizes its connection to racial, class and other socioeconomic disadvantages, and inject into the public conversation a discussion of policy alternatives.

Infographic by The Public Administration on Government Spending Shows More Money is Spent on Prisons than on Higher Education

Aug 5, 2014
According to an infographic by The Public Administration, in most states, more money is spent on incarceration and corrections than on higher education. In fact, as the chart displays, it costs the state of New Jersey more money to incarcerate someone for a year than to fund a student's tuition at Princeton. One year at Princeton University: $37,000. One year at a New Jersey state prison: $44,000. The chart also shows that, compared to the rest of the world, the United States ranks sixth in terms of degree attainment but first in rate of incarceration. Out of all the states, California has the highest population, the most students in college, and the most people in prison; if it emptied its prisons today and sent every person incarcerated to a college or university, it would save almost $7 billion a year.

California’s Death Penalty Ruled Unconstitutional

Jul 17, 2014
On Wednesday July 16th, 2014 California's death penalty system was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge. U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney declared the system arbitrary and in violation of the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Read Carney's official ruling of Jones vs. Chappell at http://www.scribd.com/doc/234138113/Jones-vs-Chappell.

New Study on Private Prison Health Care Delivery

Jul 10, 2014
In an Open Letter to the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), UC Berkeley researcher Christopher Petrella asks the CCA to stop citing the 2013 Temple Study; a study which is not only misleading and inaccurate, but was also commissioned and funded by the CCA and two other for-profit private prison companies.

New Article by Michelle Alexander in July Sojourners Magazine: “How to Dismantle the ‘New Jim Crow’”

Jul 8, 2014
Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, writes in the July issue of Sojourners Magazine that when it comes to the U.S. system of mass incarceration, "We face a profound moral and spiritual crisis, not merely a social, political, or economic one." Alexander references the newly released book by Prison Studies Project Director Dr. Kaia Stern regarding our moral and spiritual obligation to dismantle the U.S. penal system, i.e. the New Jim Crow. As excerpted from the article: "The system of mass incarceration is rotten to its core. As Kaia Stern eloquently explains in her book Voices from American Prisons, the quintupling of our prison populations in a few short decades and the relegation of tens of millions of people to a permanent second-class status is a reflection of the fact that we in the United States are captive to a 'spirit of punishment.' She writes, 'There is no more pressing human rights issue, no more urgent spiritual crossroads or threat to democracy, than the current penal crisis.'" You can read the full article by purchasing a short- or long-term subscription to Sojourners, or look for the issue in your local bookstore or public library.
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