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In September 2008, Kaia Stern and Bruce Western launched the Prison Studies Project (PSP) at Harvard University to promote informed conversation about the challenges of mass incarceration. Since its inception, PSP has been committed to raising public awareness, teaching college courses inside prison, and injecting into the public conversation a discussion of policy alternatives. Our work has focused on research, education and policy change.

The Prison Studies Project is now in a new phase. Though the scale and indignities in American incarceration are well known to research specialists, they have until very recently been largely unknown to the general public and policymakers. Now is a key moment to harness a national momentum to alter the ways we punish. Practices change when consciousness changes, and in order to shift political will, we need an accounting beyond numbers. We need to reckon with our cultural hunger to punish, to go deeper into our own understanding of justice, and to tell truths that inspire and transform. The Prison Studies Project’s renewed focus is to bear witness to the ways we punish—ourselves, our children, the “criminal”—and thereby to challenge the current narrative about justice in the United States and help create a more equitable and effective justice system.

Our Mission

Our mission is to awaken the broadest possible public to the ways we punish, and to reimagine justice in the United States.

Our Goals

The Prison Studies Project is committed to three main goals: transforming minds, transforming lives, and transforming policy by awakening the broadest possible public to the ways we punish. Using the combined power of research, storytelling, and social mobilization, we work to change the ways we imagine, and therefore enact, justice. To pursue these goals the Prison Studies Project has begun to gather stories and convene leading researchers and practitioners, promoting a dynamic interaction that raises the profile of justice in public conversation, works to flood the marketplace of ideas with information, and challenges conventional assumptions about justice.