Ending Mass Incarceration

Bringing Dignity to Life Behind Bars

With few exceptions, American jails and prisons are dehumanizing environments. For incarcerated men and women—95% of whom will return home—the possibility of rehabilitation is undermined by the brutality and monotony of life behind bars. High recidivism rates suggest the model isn’t working. The environments are punishing for staff as well. 

Downsizing prisons and jails is not enough. They must be healthy places to live and work, places that affirm fundamental human rights, and where the possibility for personal transformation is a reality. Getting there requires commitment, imagination, and close partnerships with corrections administrators and others eager for change. Our work includes ending the widespread use of solitary confinement, protecting people from sexual assault, exploring ways to better connect people who are incarcerated with their families,  and expanding access to higher education in prison. It also draws on lessons from countries that take a much less punitive approach to confinement with far better results.

Related Work

Reimagining American Prisons Isn’t a Pipedream. After the Holocaust, Germany Reimagined Theirs.

Connecticut’s partnership with Vera on the T.R.U.E. unit, and the early successes demonstrated there, have led to similar units in Massachusetts and South Carolina. Seeing these and other partnerships come from the initial trip, Vera staff knew how important the experience was for shaping plans to move beyond the low-hanging fruit of incremental re...

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  • Kindred Motes
    Kindred Motes
October 14, 2018
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Series: Dispatches from Germany

Can We Learn From Our Past?

The Holocaust forced Germany to fundamentally change how it incarcerates people. In America, slavery morphed into mass incarceration.

The 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolishes slavery and involuntary servitude except as punishment for a crime—a loophole that has continued the wide-scale persecution of black and brown people through the criminal justice system. The result is a U.S. prison system designed to warehouse and dehumanize people. From the length of sentences ...

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  • Alex Frank
    Alex Frank
September 14, 2018
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Series: Dispatches from W.O.R.T.H.

How Young Women are Building Promise in a Connecticut Prison

Every aspect of W.O.R.T.H.’s design intentionally embodies the spirit of the “human dignity principle”—the concept that every human being possesses an intrinsic worth, merely by being human. From its culture to its physical environment to its daily routine, W.O.R.T.H. was re-purposed, designed, and transformed from a vacant, old unit inside the pri...

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  • Ryan Shanahan
    Ryan Shanahan
  • Alex Frank
    Alex Frank
August 02, 2018
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