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

College in Prison Adapts as COVID-19 Upends Education in Schools Everywhere

Daniela, who received her associate’s degree in 2014, says going to college and getting a degree while in prison gave her a second chance “to be who [she] always wanted to be.” But for decades, getting that second chance and accessing higher education has been a challenge for people like Daniela. The Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiativ ...

Blog Post
  • Margaret diZerega
    Margaret diZerega
  • Nazish Dholakia
    Nazish Dholakia
April 28, 2021
Blog Post

Second Chance Pell: Four Years of Expanding Access to Education in Prison

The Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative, launched by the U.S. Department of Education in 2015, provides need-based Pell Grants to people in state and federal prisons. The initiative examines whether expanding access to college financial aid increases incarcerated adults’ participation in postsecondary educational opportunities. This re ...

  • Kelsie Chesnut, ​Allan Wachendorfer
April 27, 2021

Mapping U.S. Jails' Use of Restrictive Housing

Trends, disparities, and other forms of lockdown

The use of restrictive housing (solitary confinement) in U.S. prisons and the rationales for or against it have been the subject of widespread research and debate. Much less is known, however, about restrictive housing in U.S. jails, due to lack of standardized policies, limited data, and the rapid turnover of people detained. Furthermore, many jai ...

  • Chase Montagnet, Jennifer Peirce, David Pitts
April 13, 2021

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 ...

  • David Pitts, Lionel Smith
February 05, 2021