Press Releases archives

January 21, 2016


Bernadette Rabuy
brabuy [at]

report thumbnailEasthampton, MA — Given the extreme distances that separate incarcerated people from their families, technological innovations that allow more frequent and faster communication between incarcerated people and their families would be a welcome improvement. A new report by the Prison Policy Initiative finds that while many facilities are still stuck in the last century, the growing number of facilities experimenting with electronic messaging are all too often providing incarcerated people and their families a product of questionable value at inflated prices.

The report, You’ve Got Mail: The promise of cyber communication in prisons and the need for regulation, analyzes the current state of electronic messaging in correctional facilities. The report finds that electronic messaging — which is often referred to as “email for prisoners” — actually has very little in common with the email services available to free-world users. For example:

  • Some electronic messaging systems are “inbound only.” With these systems, free-world users are able to electronically send a message to an incarcerated person, but the incarcerated person must respond with a handwritten letter.
  • While email is free for those of us in the free-world, private companies charge incarcerated people and their families anywhere from 5¢ to $1.25 per message to communicate electronically.

“Calling the electronic messaging offered to incarcerated people and their families ‘email’ would be an insult to email,” explains Stephen Raher, author of You’ve Got Mail. “Once again, it seems that the prison phone giants are providing more of the same old exploitation rather than providing true innovation.”

The report builds on the Prison Policy Initiative’s work uncovering the previously hidden prison and jail phone industry and exposing the harmful trend of video visits replacing traditional in-person jail visits. The report was submitted to the Federal Communications Commission in response to its request for comments on advanced communication services in prisons and jails and provides the FCC with nine recommendations. The report also offers seven other recommendations for legislators, state public utility commissions, and correctional administrators, all with an eye toward transforming electronic messaging from a poorly designed and expensive technology to a fair and reasonable tool for communication.

You’ve Got Mail: The promise of cyber communication in prisons and the need for regulation is a collaboration between Prison Policy Initiative and pro bono legal analyst Stephen Raher of the organization’s Young Professionals Network. Stephen’s previous work with the Prison Policy Initiative provided a first-of-its-kind analysis of high-fee release cards.

The report is available at:


December 8, 2015


Bernadette Rabuy
brabuy [at]

Easthampton, MA — With 2.3 million people locked up in more than 7,000 correctional facilities operated by thousands of agencies, getting the big picture is anything but easy. Today, with the publication of Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2015, the Prison Policy Initiative provides the answer to how many people are locked up in the U.S., where, and why. Building upon our groundbreaking 2014 report that, for the first time, aggregated the disparate systems of confinement, this updated version contains further detail on why people are locked up:

pie chart showing the number of people locked up on a given day in the United States by facility type and the underlying offense using the newest data available in December 2015

As we discuss in our report, looking at the “whole pie” allows us to cut through the fog to answer key questions such as:

  • After state prisons, what is the next biggest slice of confinement?
  • How does the number of people that cycle through correctional facilities in a year differ from the number of people locked up on a particular day?
  • How important is it to ending mass incarceration that we reform the policies that increasingly detain people pretrial?
  • How many people nationwide are imprisoned because their most serious offense was a drug offense?
  • How does the number of people in correctional facilities compare to the even larger number of people on probation and parole?

Armed with the big picture, Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2015, gives the public and policymakers the foundation to now consider the types of changes that would end the country’s reign as the number one incarcerator in the world.

The report is available at:


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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October 20, 2015


Bernadette Rabuy
(413) 527-0845

report thumbnailEasthampton, MA — Less than a third of people in state prison receive a visit from a loved one in a typical month, puts forth a new report by the Prison Policy Initiative, Separation by Bars and Miles: Visitation in state prisons. The report finds that distance from home is a strong predictor for whether an incarcerated person receives a visit.

“For far too long, the national data on prison visits has been limited to incarcerated parents. We use extensive yet under-used Bureau of Justice Statistics data to shed light on the prison experience for all incarcerated people, finding that prisons are lonely places,” said co-author Bernadette Rabuy, who recently used the same BJS dataset for Prisons of Poverty: Uncovering the pre-incarceration incomes of the imprisoned.

Separation by Bars and Miles finds that most people in state prison are locked up over 100 miles from their families and that, unsurprisingly, these great distances — as well as the time and expense required to overcome them — actively discourage family visits. Given the obvious reluctance of state prison systems to move their facilities, the report offers six correctional policy recommendations that states can implement to protect and enhance family ties. Rabuy explained, “At this moment, as policymakers are starting to understand that millions of families are victims of mass incarceration, I hope this report gives policymakers more reasons to change the course of correctional history.”

The report focuses on incarcerated people in state prisons and is a collaboration between Prison Policy Initiative staff and data scientist Daniel Kopf of the organization’s Young Professionals Network.

The report is available at:


July 15, 2015

report thumbnailOur newest report asks and answers the question for every county and state in the nation: to what degree do the people in prison in a given county resemble the people who live in the surrounding county?

In partnership with Daniel Kopf of our Young Professionals Network, we analyzed U.S. Census data on the race and ethnicity of people incarcerated in given counties with the corresponding data for the surrounding county.

The racial disparities underlying the United States’ record growth in imprisonment are well documented, as is the fact that the prison construction boom was disproportionately a rural prison construction boom. While these two characteristics have been studied separately, there has been, until now, no national effort to analyze each state’s decision to engage in mass incarceration through a racial geography lens.

This report fills a critical gap in understanding the mass incarceration phenomenon: it offers a way to quantify the degree to which, in each state, mass incarceration is about sending Blacks and Latinos to communities with very different racial/ethnic make-ups than their own.

Our findings include:

  • Entirely separate from the more commonly discussed problem of racial disparities in who goes to prison, this data addresses a distressing racial and ethnic disparity in where prisons have been built.
  • Stark racial and ethnic disparities exist between incarcerated people and the people in the county outside the prison’s walls.
  • The transfer of Black and Latino incarcerated people to communities very different than their own is a national problem not confined to select states.
  • Hundreds of counties have a 10-to-1 “ratio of over-representation” between incarcerated Blacks and Blacks in the surrounding county — meaning that the portion of the prison that is Black is at least 10 times larger than the portion of the surrounding county that is Black.

We anticipate this analysis will be most useful to address two questions:

  1. Why do some states struggle to hire sufficient Black and Latino correctional staff?
  2. To what degree does prison gerrymandering — the practice of using U.S. Census counts of incarcerated people as residents of the prison location for legislative districting purposes — have a racial character in particular states?

The reports contains:

  • Graphs and maps showing the frequency of racial/ethnic overrepresentation.
  • Interactive tables and graphics to allow further data exploration and use of the data in new ways.
  • Summaries of how the racial and geographic disparities stack up by state.

The report is available at:

July 9, 2015


Bernadette Rabuy
(413) 527-0845

report thumbnailEasthampton, MA — Incarcerated people are disproportionately shut out of the economy even before they are locked up, demonstrates a new report by the non-profit Prison Policy Initiative.

“I was shocked to discover late last year that the most commonly cited source for the fact that incarcerated people are poor was decades old,” said Bernadette Rabuy, who recently published a report about the exploitative video visitation industry that works to supplant traditional in-person family visits in jails with expensive $1/minute video chats.

“All too often in criminal justice, the data we need doesn’t exist, but here the data was hiding in plain sight. The federal government collects the pre-incarceration incomes of incarcerated people in a periodic survey, but this data wasn’t being used,” said Rabuy who partnered with data scientist Daniel Kopf to decode the data and put it into context.

The report includes the pre-incarceration incomes of incarcerated people by race, ethnicity, and gender and provides comparisons to the incomes of similarly aged non-incarcerated people. The report updates the most commonly used numbers for the incomes of incarcerated people and for the first time provides national data on the pre-incarceration incomes of incarcerated women.

The report, Prisons of Poverty: Uncovering the pre-incarceration incomes of the imprisoned, is available at


May 6, 2015


Bernadette Rabuy
(413) 527-0845

Easthampton, MA — On Monday, Securus, the video visitation industry leader, announced that it will no longer explicitly require county jails and state prisons to replace traditional family visits with video visits. Securus CEO Richard A. Smith stated that the billion-dollar phone and video visitation company “found that in ‘a handful’ of cases,” Securus was including a clause that “could be perceived as restricting onsite and/or person-to-person contact.”

But Securus’s new policy is much more significant than Securus’s announcement implies, says Bernadette Rabuy of the Prison Policy Initiative. “There is clear language banning in-person visits in 70% of the Securus contracts we examined for our report, Screening Out Family Time: The for-profit video visitation industry in prisons and jails.” The contracts plainly read: “For non-professional visitors, Customer will eliminate all face to face visitation through glass or otherwise at the Facility.”

This offensive clause was brilliantly challenged by comedians Ted Alexandro and Ben Rosen, arguing about whether video visitation lives up to the industry’s claims that it’s “just like Skype:”

While many of Securus’s competitors have worked with sheriffs to replace in-person visits with video visits, Securus was the only video visitation company that dictated correctional visitation policy in the contract. This clause has been controversial. After public protest, the Portland, Oregon Sheriff was the first to successfully amend an existing Securus video visitation contract, and in Dallas County, Texas county legislators were able to eliminate the clause before signing a contract with Securus.

Video visitation is a promising technology that could make it easier and more affordable for families to stay in touch despite the challenges of incarceration. But as it is too often implemented, going high-tech has been a step in the wrong direction.

“This announcement won’t necessarily bring back in-person visitation,” said the Prison Policy Initiative’s Bernadette Rabuy. “Traditionally, video visitation companies and sheriffs have played the blame game, neither has been willing to take responsibility for banning in-person visits. Now that Securus is shifting moral responsibility to the sheriffs, the Prison Policy Initiative will be working with concerned families across the country to ensure that sheriffs reverse these draconian policies.”


February 25, 2015

Groundbreaking report maps incarceration and spending, suggests more effective alternative investments

Marie Yeager

Washington, DC – According to a new report released today by the Justice Policy Institute and the Prison Policy Initiative, Maryland taxpayers are spending $5 million or more to incarcerate people from each of about half of Baltimore’s communities (25 of 55), with total spending of $288 million a year on incarcerating people from Baltimore in Maryland’s prisons.

Infographic showing that Maryland spends $288 million a year incarcerating people from Baltimore City Based on data recently made available by a new Maryland law, The Right Investment?: Corrections Spending in Baltimore City shows for the first time where people who are incarcerated are from, and how much Maryland taxpayers spend on their incarceration. The report includes detailed maps and information that can better inform investment decisions in these communities to help solve long-standing challenges and improve public safety.

“Spending $288 million every year to incarcerate people from Baltimore isn’t the right choice for Maryland taxpayers,” said Marc Schindler, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute. “This costly investment in incarceration can decrease public safety, and undermine the ability to redirect funds to better long-term solutions that could prevent crime from happening in the first place, including education, housing, drug treatment and employment opportunities.”

The Right Investment? shows that the 25 Baltimore communities where taxpayers spend $5 million dollars or more on incarceration are also the places that experience disproportionate unemployment, greater reliance on public assistance, higher rates of school absence, higher rates of vacant and abandoned housing, and more addiction challenges. The 25 communities also experience lower life expectancy, lower rates of educational attainment, and lower incomes than the rest of Baltimore. The Right Investment? illustrates how the money currently spent on incarceration could instead be better invested in treatment, housing, education, and employment services in these communities.

map showing Community Statistical Areas in Baltimore by the amount of money Maryland spends to incarcerate people from that community each year “This report combines never-before analyzed geographic data with key metrics on community well-being to allow policymakers to make informed choices about how best to allocate precious taxpayer resources,” said Peter Wagner, executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative.

The report is particularly timely because legislators in Annapolis are currently considering a range of policy proposals that could significantly affect corrections spending. Pending legislation includes proposed bills to reduce mandatory minimum prison sentences, reduce the barriers to getting a job after having been convicted of a crime, and create a council to look specifically at how to reduce spending on corrections and reinvest in strategies to increase public safety and reduce recidivism. Fortunately, a proposal from 2013 that recommended the state spend a half-billion dollars on a new jail for Baltimore City has not been included in the Governor’s proposed budget, though the plan has not been explicitly taken off the table.

“This report should lead to a much more informed discussion on how taxpayer money is being spent in these communities,” said Delegate Jill Carter (D-Baltimore City-41). “Along with passing legislation that we know will help reduce the number of people going to prison, shorten their sentences and reduce criminal justice spending, policymakers and the public need better tools to help measure whether we are making the right investments in these communities.”

The Right Investment? is a collaborative effort between the Justice Policy Institute and the Prison Policy Initiative. This report is based on data and information generated by the state of Maryland and research organizations such as the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance. Funding for the study was provided by the Open Society Institute–Baltimore, and other foundations that support the partners.

“I introduced the No Representation Without Population Act to provide better data for redistricting purposes, and I’m now looking forward to using all the data and information generated by this law to directly enlighten future criminal justice policy choices in Maryland”, said Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel-21), the lead sponsor of the law in the House of Delegates.

The full report includes specific analyses of each of Baltimore’s 55 communities, as well as additional data about the number and rates of people incarcerated in other Maryland communities. A complete version of The Right Investment? is available at and

For more information, contact Marie Yeager at 717-817-3333 or


The Justice Policy Institute, based in Washington, D.C., is working to reduce the use of incarceration and the justice system and promote policies that improve the well-being of all people and communities. The Prison Policy Initiative, a national organization based in Easthampton, Mass. produces cutting edge research to expose the broader harm of mass criminalization, and then sparks advocacy campaigns to create a more just society. For more information on the partners’ work and publications, visit their websites at and

January 14, 2015


Bernadette Rabuy
(413) 527-0845

Easthampton, MA — New technology that is supposed to make it easier for families to stay in touch with incarcerated loved ones is actually doing harm, charges a new report by the non-profit Prison Policy Initiative.

While prison and jail video visitation is often described as similar to well-known free services such as Skype or FaceTime, these pay-to-visit video systems are often being used to replace essential human contact. The report, Screening Out Family Time: The for-profit video visitation industry in prisons and jails, finds that most county jails are implementing video visitation with an approach that is a step backwards for families and correctional best practices: video visitation actually punishes families.

Rather than offering video visitation as a supplement to traditional visitation, county jails and video visitation companies are replacing free, in-person visits with free but restricted onsite video visits and low-quality, remote video visits that cost up to $1.50 per minute. “Families are unhappy with video visitation because it replaces the real living person on the other side of the glass with a grainy computer image,” explains Bernadette Rabuy of the Prison Policy Initiative.

“While this technology goes back to the 1990s, this report provides what has before now been entirely lacking: a comprehensive national survey of the video visitation industry starting at its promised benefits and analyzing how it works in the real world,” says Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative.

The Prison Policy Initiative analyzed over a quarter of the industry’s contracts with state prisons and county jails to describe the trends and contrast the industry’s marketing claims with the evidence. The report finds that, with some notable exceptions, this technology is poorly designed, does not work well, and makes a trying time for families even more challenging.

The report offers 23 recommendations for federal and state regulators, legislators, correctional facilities, and the video visitation companies, all with an eye towards making video visitation into a positive, rather than negative, communication option.

For the executive summary, see:
For the report, see:


June 11, 2014

report thumbnailJune 11, 2014 — How does your state compare to the international community when it comes to the use of incarceration? Not very well, says a new infographic and report by the Prison Policy Initiative and data artist Josh Begley.

This report, “States of Incarceration: The Global Context,” recognizes that while there are important differences between how U.S. states handle incarceration, incarceration policy in every region of this country is out of step with the rest of the world.

“It is essential to focus on the incarceration practices of individual states,” said Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative. “Most criminal justice policy decisions are made at the state level and the vast majority of the people locked up are locked up for violating state laws,”

This report is the first to directly situate individual U.S. states in the global context. The report and infographic draws international figures on incarceration from the International Centre for Prison Studies and state-level data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Compared to Louisiana, most U.S. states appear to have reasonable rates of incarceration, but it is disturbing to see where these ‘reasonable’ states stack up in the broader carceral landscape,” said data-artist and co-author Josh Begley.

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. Josh Begley, a graduate of the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University, is most famous for creating an iPhone app that tracks every reported United States drone strike. Past collaborations between Mr. Begley and the Prison Policy Initiative have included an infographic about whether the states that bar the most people from the polls should in fact be picking the next president and Prison Map, a website exploring the geography of incarceration.


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