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 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 ...

Blog Post
  • Alex Frank
    Alex Frank
September 14, 2018
Blog Post

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