Can you make a gift today to fuel the movement to end mass incarceration?

by Peter Wagner, November 30, 2015

The Prison Policy Initiative has celebrated some huge victories recently: historic prison and jail phone industry regulation, making strides towards a national end to prison gerrymandering, and reversing bans on in-person family visitation in Oregon and Texas jails.

Here at the Prison Policy Initiative, we know that in order to keep winning victories for fairness and justice, the movement to end mass incarceration needs compelling and up-to-date information about the U.S. incarceration crisis. This year, we’ve continued to fill critical gaps in the movement’s knowledge with exciting reports that:

  • Show that each state’s rate of incarcerating women is far out of step with the rest of the world. Compared to other countries, most U.S. states lock up proportionally more women than any other country in the world.
  • Uncover the data to show that even before their incarceration, the people in prison are much poorer than Americans of similar ages, race/ethnicity and gender. This report was also the first to provide the pre-incarceration incomes of women in prison.
  • Reframe the entire debate about visitation and reentry with new data that demonstrates that incarcerating people far from home actively discourages family visits.
  • Provide critical new data to demonstrate the degree to which mass incarceration transfers people of color to predominantly white communities.
  • Demonstrate that jails, not just prisons, matter in policy discussions because 11 million people cycle through jails, and the dramatic growth in the jail population is the direct result of policies that increasingly detain people awaiting trial.

These reports were made possible by the generosity of a small group of individual donors. Can you make a gift today so we can both advance specific campaigns for justice and produce critical research?

To encourage you to give generously, some of our existing donors will match the first $19,000 that we receive in this appeal.

We thank you for standing by our side in the fight for fairer and safer communities for everyone.

How do the campaign contributions of the prison phone industry compare to those of the private prison industry?

by Peter Wagner, November 25, 2015

The Voice of OC has revealed that $85,000 in campaign contributions to two Orange County, California county supervisors by Global Tel*Link flipped the two supervisors from being opponents of charging families high phone rates into supporters.

The Voice of OC articles are a must-read (first article, second article), and they have a video showing the dramatic change in positions:

We’re thrilled to see more investigation of the phone companies using campaign contributions to purchase influence. We broke the first story of this type in August, with our exposé that found that Securus was one of the largest contributors to the sheriff’s reelection campaign in Sacramento, California. Notably, this is a county where Securus did not have the contract, but clearly wanted to be the winning bidder when the contract was next put out for bid.

How big is $85,000 in campaign contributions, exactly? To be sure, it pales in comparison to the $4 million/year in kickbacks that the contract would give to the Orange County slush fund called the “Inmate Welfare Fund”. (Despite the name, the funds can be used for almost anything, and as the Voice of OC article says, most of it is spent on staff salaries.)

On the other hand, $85,000 was apparently enough to change these two votes in this one county. And it’s a massive sum when you compare it to the outrage that was aimed at Hillary Clinton after The Intercept reported that bundlers associated with the private prison industry were supporting her presidential campaign with similar amounts of money. (ColorOfChange says that the total received by the Clinton campaign from the industry was $133,000.)

It’s stories like this that illustrate two points we’ve been making a lot lately:

  • Jails matter. Their policies might be set by 3,000 local governments, which can make them hard to follow and understand. But we need to look at jails, which are literally mass incarceration’s front door.
  • Private prisons get all the attention, but other kinds of prison profiteers like the prison phone industry and the California guard union are just as successful — if not more so — at buying the outcomes they want.

Report reveals that every US state incarcerates women at higher rate than most countries, shows growth of women's incarceration in the US over the last century.

November 18, 2015

report thumbnailEasthampton MA — How does your state compare to the international community when it comes to incarcerating women? Not very well, says a new infographic and report from the Prison Policy Initiative.

The report, “States of Women’s Incarceration: The Global Context,” shows that every American state is out of step with the rest of the world.

While there are important differences in the extent and rate at which different U.S. states incarcerate women, there are also differences between how American states, and the country as a whole, compare with most other nations in their propensity to incarcerate women.

“Our analysis shows that even states which seem to incarcerate women less than others in the U.S. are in fact incredibly punitive once that isolationist worldview is broadened,” said Aleks Kajstura, Legal Director of the Prison Policy Initiative. “Every single state incarcerates women at a rate that far exceeds international norms.”

This report is the first to directly put individual U.S. states’ rates of incarcerating women in the global context. The report draws on international statistics from the London-based Institute for Criminal Policy Research, state-level data from the U.S. Census Bureau for interstate and international incarceration comparisons, and historical data from various sources for a detailed look at the U.S.’s past record on women’s incarceration.

The Prison Policy Initiative found that nearly 30% of the world’s incarcerated women are imprisoned in the U.S. even though only 5% of the world’s women live here. Overall, with the exception of Thailand and the U.S. itself, the top 44 jurisdictions throughout the world with the highest rate of incarcerating women are individual American states.

In Illinois, the incarceration rate for women is on par with El Salvador, where abortion is illegal and women are jailed for having miscarriages. New Hampshire is on the same level as Russia, and New York with Rwanda.

“The statistics revealed by this report are simple and staggering” the report concludes. “They suggest that states cannot remain complacent about how many women they incarcerate. Women should be a mainstay of any state policy discussions on the economical and effective use of incarceration if we hope to incarcerate fewer women.”

The non-profit, non-partisan Prison Policy Initiative produces cutting edge research to expose the broader harm of mass incarceration, and then sparks advocacy campaigns to create a more just society. This report was prepared by Aleks Kajstura, Legal Director of the Prison Policy Initiative, and Russ Immarigeon, an independent researcher and editor of the two-volume set, Women and Girls in the Criminal Justice System: Policy Strategies and Program Options (Civic Research Institute, 2006, 2011).

For further information, contact Aleks Kajstura at akajstura [at]


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by Aleks Kajstura, November 17, 2015

Last month James Kilgore published a new report evaluating the use of electronic monitoring as an alternative to incarceration. Drawing on an impressively wide range of sources, “Electronic Monitoring Is Not the Answer: Critical reflections on a flawed alternative” tackles the use of electronic monitoring in the context of mass incarceration and the expanding surveillance state.

The report recommends 14 guiding principles for re-framing the U.S.’s approach to electronic monitoring, concluding that:

In the present context, there is little evidence to support EM as a genuine alternative to incarceration. At the same time, EM is not going to go away, especially with the constantly expanding capacity of devices to track and gather other data. If decarceration gathers steam, EM will become an important option. Before that happens, the debate around its use and implications needs to sharpen. Any useful framing must open up a dialog around the rights of the monitored and link EM to state and corporate surveillance. Otherwise, we run the risk of hundreds of thousands of people being virtually incarcerated in their homes and of the net widening to track many more who have not even had an encounter with law enforcement.

A point by point summary and full report are available here.

Oliver illustrates the various ways that we set formerly incarcerated people up to fail and says we're all responsible

by Bernadette Rabuy, November 11, 2015

John Oliver explains another broken aspect of the criminal justice system, re-entry. Oliver illustrates the various ways that we set formerly incarcerated people up to fail, from restrictions on housing and employment to the rolling back of Pell grants. According to Oliver, because of the resounding and bipartisan support for enacting barriers to re-entry during the tough-on-crime era, we should all feel responsible for the lack of opportunity available to people trying to turn their lives around.

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