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

A Monumental Shift: Restoring Access to Pell Grants for Incarcerated Students

After 26-year ban lifts, incarcerated students can once again receive this federal financial aid

In December 2020, Congress lifted a 26-year ban on Pell Grants for incarcerated students. The ban, enacted amid a slew of “tough-on-crime” policies in the 1990s, stripped people in prison of access to this federal financial aid. Incarcerated people earn pennies per hour for the work they do in prison, making it next to impossible for them to afford ...

Publication
  • Juan Martinez-Hill
March 04, 2021
Publication

Brooklyn Public Library’s TeleStory Video Visitation Program

A Process Evaluation

The Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) has taken on a number of functions adjacent to the formal criminal justice system, including reentry services and programs for the families of incarcerated people. One of those programs is TeleStory, an initiative by which families can use video equipment in the library to virtually visit a loved one who is incarce ...

Publication
  • David Pitts, Lionel Smith
February 05, 2021
Publication

Series: Target 2020

Voters in Battleground States Favor Restoring Pell Grants for People in Prison

These battleground state voters seem to understand that reinstating Pell eligibility for the greatest number of people in prison is a sound investment in our future. Plenty of other influential voices agree. Bipartisan momentum to get rid of the Pell ban for people in prison has been growing steadily: Since early 2019, the Association of State Cor ...

Blog Post
  • Margaret diZerega
    Margaret diZerega
September 29, 2020
Blog Post

Series: Target 2020

The Party Platforms Must Address the Urgent Need to Transform American Criminal Justice

America’s justice system is rooted in the nation’s history of slavery and racial oppression and applying a human dignity lens is necessary to achieve transformational change. This perspective values the intrinsic worth of human life and a person’s ability to grow and change. In that spirit, the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) urges important party ...

Blog Post
  • Hayne Yoon
    Hayne Yoon
  • Logan Schmidt
    Logan Schmidt
June 17, 2020
Blog Post