For most of the 20th century, imprisonment in the United States was rare. The incarceration rate was 100 per 100,000, meaning that that just one-tenth of 1 percent of the population was behind bars on any given day. In the mid-1970s, the prison and jail population began to grow, and it grew every single year for the next 35 years. Now, 1 in 31 Americans is in jail, prison, on probation or parole. The Prison Studies Project posits mass incarceration as the most pressing civil and human rights issue of the 21st century.

Our outreach/advocacy activities are geared to four main goals:

    • To raise public awareness. Though the scale and disparities in American incarceration are well known to research specialists, they are largely unknown in the general public and among policymakers.
    • To teach college courses inside prison as part of increasing educational opportunities for people who are incarcerated.
    • To promote a perspective on criminal punishment that emphasizes its connection to racial, class and other socioeconomic disadvantages. From this perspective, prisons and jails are not important chiefly for their effects on crime but also for their effects on social inequality.
    • To inject into the public conversation a discussion of policy alternatives. In part, this effort considers alternatives to incarceration, effective “reentry” models and partnerships, and prison programming. Additionally, a discussion of policy alternatives must also claim a strong role for social policy – for fighting poverty and expanding economic opportunity – in promoting public safety. We aim to inform this discussion by highlighting model programs and fostering a conversation among practitioners, policymakers and researchers.

To pursue these goals the Prison Studies Project has begun to convene leading researchers and practitioners, promoting a dynamic interaction that raises the profile of mass incarceration in public conversation, works to flood the marketplace of ideas with information and challenges conventional assumptions about crime and punishment.