About the Prison Policy Initiative
Ten years ago, the founders of the Prison Policy Initiative discovered that the sheer size of the prison population was combining with an outdated Census Bureau rule to seriously distort how political decisions are made in this country. In a series of reports, we put numbers on the problem of prison-based gerrymandering, suggested solutions, and sparked a nation-wide movement.
Since then, we’ve made tremendous progress:
- The prison miscount was a key part of the discussion about the 2010 Census, and the Census Bureau agreed to publish prison count data earlier than in the past, in order to assist states and counties with reallocating or removing incarcerated populations during the redistricting process.
- Two states, Maryland and New York, passed legislation to end prison-based gerrymandering and count incarcerated people at home for redistricting purposes, starting immediately. Both states' laws have been upheld in the courts.
- Two more states, Delaware and California, passed similar legislation to end prison-based gerrymandering starting after the 2020 Census.
- Our research and organizing has led hundreds of county and municipal governments across the country to reject the Census Bureau’s prison counts and avoid prison-based gerrymandering.
Progress towards ending prison gerrymandering (from the Giving Library video series).
Who we are
The Prison Policy Initiative was founded in 2001 by Peter Wagner, Stephen Healy and Sarah Kowalski. Until November 2009, Peter was our only (and often part-time) staff member, coordinating our network of volunteers. Thanks to increased financial support, we’ve been able to grow to three full-time staff members and now accomplish even more.
Our larger vision
While we are most famous for our work documenting how mass incarceration skews our democracy, that’s just one part of our mission. We’re demonstrating how mass incarceration impacts everyone, not just those directly involved in the criminal justice system. Our research and the campaigns we spark empower new voices to help set criminal justice policy in this country.
Today in 2013, most of our attention goes to our prison-based gerrymandering project, but we’ve broken ground on other issues as well, including:
- Prison Phone Industry: Our two reports expose how the monopolistic prison phone industry's exorbitant calling rates hurt families and undermine public safety. We won the support of the New York Times editorial board, and collaborated with SumOfUs to collect 36,690 petitions to send to the FCC.
- Postcard-only Mail Policies in Jail: Our report exposes the consequences of a the harmful new trend of banning family members from writing to loved ones in local jails.
- Sentencing Enhancement Zones, a.k.a. “School zones”: We demonstrated that well-intentioned laws that give enhanced penalties for offenses conducted near specific locations don’t work, can never work, and have serious negative effects. Our maps and analysis are reshaping the debate.
- Sex offender banishment: Our mapping expertise has helped civil rights litigators demonstrate that some restrictions on where people on the sex offender registries may live or work can backfire. In Georgia, we helped the Southern Center for Human Rights show in federal court that the legislature declared vast areas of the state off-limits, a result that was likely unintended and clearly unconstitutional.
- The Prison Index: Taking the Pulse of the Crime Control Industry, co-published with the Western Prison Project, was an accessible index of statistics about our nation’s criminal justice system that empowered the activists, policymakers and the media to engage the American system of mass incarceration.
- Resources: Beyond our original research, the resource guides we edit and the visual data that we produce are the starting point for much of the criminal justice reform movement. Among other resources, We edit the internet’s largest clearinghouse of empirical research about prisons and crime, and we maintain the only automatically up-to-date list of legal resources for people in prison. Our maps and graphs pages are widely used resources for activists and academics exploring the meaning of mass incarceration.
Financial and tax information
- IRS 501(c)(3) letter [PDF]
- tax return for 2006-2007 [PDF]
- tax return for 2007-2008 [PDF]
- tax return for 2008-2009 [PDF]
- Accountant’s statement of financial position for 2008-2009 [PDF]
- tax return for 2009-2010 [PDF]
- Accountant’s statement of financial position for 2009-2010 [PDF]
- tax return for 2010-2011 [PDF]
- Accountant’s statement of financial position for 2010-2011 [PDF]
- tax return for 2011-2012 [PDF]
- Accountant’s statement of financial position for 2011-2012 [PDF]