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

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...

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

Rethinking Restrictive Housing

Lessons from Five U.S. Jail and Prison Systems

In recent years, the practice of restrictive housing (otherwise known as solitary confinement or segregation) in U.S. prisons and jails has been the subject of increased scrutiny from researchers, advocates, policymakers, media, and the government agencies responsible for people who are incarcerated. Originally intended to manage people who committ...

Publication
  • Sara Sullivan, Léon Digard, Elena Vanko
May 01, 2018
Publication

A Question of Compassion

Medical Parole in New York State

Compassionate release laws enable incarcerated people who are elderly, seriously ill, incapacitated—or some combination thereof—to obtain parole in order to receive treatment in a community setting and in the company of loved ones. In recent years, the number of older adults in U.S. prisons has soared, even as the overall prison population has decl...

Publication
  • Rebecca Silber, Léon Digard, Jessi LaChance
April 27, 2018
Publication

Series: Addressing the Overuse of Segregation in U.S. Prisons and Jails

Non-traditional Allies Reforming Restrictive Housing in Utah

“We sincerely thank Rollin Cook for five years of dynamic, forward-thinking leadership at the UDC. Rollin presided over an unprecedented period of transparency, cooperation, and productive engagement, and is leaving Utah's prison system in a vastly better state than he found it. As we look forward to continuing our partnership with UDC, we are hope...

Blog Post
  • Byron Kline
    Byron Kline
  • Rollin  Cook
    Rollin Cook
April 26, 2018
Blog Post