Shorts archives

by Wendy Sawyer and Wanda Bertram, May 13, 2018

Women incarcerated in the U.S. are disproportionately in jails rather than prisons, and even a short jail stay can be devastating, especially when it separates a mother from children who depend on her.

Graph showing number of women jailed each year and percentage who are mothers.Estimates have been rounded for this graphic. Sources: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Crime in the United States 2016 (including supplemental table “Arrests by Sex, 2016”); and Vera Institute of Justice, Overlooked: Women in Jails in an Era of Reform.

80% of the women who will go to jail this year are mothers – including nearly 150,000 women who are pregnant when they are admitted. Beyond having to leave their children in someone else’s care, these women will be impacted by the needlessly brutal side effects of going to jail: Aggravation of mental health problems, a greater risk of suicide, and a much higher likelihood of ending up homeless or deprived of essential financial benefits.

It’s time we recognized that when we put women in jail, we inflict potentially irreparable damage to their families. Most women who are incarcerated would be better served though alternatives in their communities. So would their kids.


by Wanda Bertram, March 6, 2018

At under two minutes, this is the shortest and sweetest version of our argument against license suspensions for drug offenses. We made this case in more detail in our report Reinstating Common Sense and in The Washington Post – but you can get the quick and easy version from our Legal Director here:

If you want to take action and live in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, or Virginia, see fact sheets and active legislation on our Driver’s License Suspensions page.


by Aleks Kajstura, February 12, 2018

In The Washington Post this weekend, I explained how states continue to use the war on drugs to meddle with driver’s licenses:

You’d expect to lose your driver’s license if you drove dangerously, but what if you ran afoul of the tax code, mail regulations or controlled-substance statutes? Sadly, in Virginia, that’s not a hypothetical question.

Virginia currently suspends nearly 39,000 driver’s licenses annually for drug offenses unrelated to driving. This is a relic of the war on drugs, and, while most states have opted out of the federal law that created these automatic suspensions, Virginia motors on.

As do 11 other states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Utah.

It’s time for these states to leave this practice in the dust. Or take the next legislative exit ramp. Or change lanes on reform. Or put the pedal to the metal… ok, you get the idea. More info available on our driver’s license campaign page.


by Wanda Bertram, January 24, 2018

In case you missed it, the push to end driver’s license suspensions for drug offenses is picking up steam in Pennsylvania. Only twelve states continue to enforce this obsolete federal policy, which requires states to suspend driver’s licenses for reasons completely unrelated to driving. Pennsylvania alone has suspended the driving privileges of around 150,000 people since 2011.

Now, with the governor’s vocal support, the state legislature is considering multiple bills to end the practice. Separately, the nonprofit Equal Justice Under Law is suing the state on behalf of two victims of this counterproductive policy.

Nationally speaking, close to 200,000 people are impacted by this outdated law every year, and we’re glad to hear arguments for reform coming from across the political spectrum. The eleven other states where this law is still active should follow Pennsylvania’s lead.


by Aleks Kajstura, December 1, 2017

Picture of Congresswomen Lois Frankel, Nancy Pelosi, and Brenda Lawrence with presenters at DWWG dinnerOn Wednesday night I presented my research on women’s incarceration at a working dinner with the Democratic Women’s Working Group (DWWG). Although federal prisons contain about 6% of the women incarcerated in the United States, federal legislation often impacts states’ incarceration policy. So it’s good to see that women’s mass incarceration is getting the attention of the DWWG, which focuses on improving the lives of women and their families.

Representative Barbara Lee organized this month’s dinner, bringing together over a dozen Congresswomen and three presenters (myself, Theresa Hodge of Mission:Launch, and Topeka Sam of The Ladies of Hope Ministries, both of which focus on women’s re-entry) for a dynamic and wide-ranging discussion of women’s incarceration in the United States. In fact, the hour-long dinner was on the verge of spilling into hour three when discussion turned in earnest to actionable next steps for Congress.

Right now the US women’s incarceration rate is skyrocketing, even as the overall incarceration rate has started to drop. I hope the engaged energy of the evening will translate to criminal justice reform that doesn’t leave women behind.


by Peter Wagner, November 13, 2017

We just released our 2016-2017 Annual Report, and I’m thrilled to share some highlights of our work with you. Despite the new challenges posed by the White House, we had a number of big successes, including:

thumbnail showing some pages from the Prison Policy Initiative 2016-2017 annual report

But that’s not all. In our highly-skimmable annual report, we review our work on all of our issues over the last year. Thank you for being a part of our successes over the last year. We are looking forward to working with you in the year to come.


by Peter Wagner, December 28, 2016

Aside from our recent reports, we have several new additions to our website worth highlighting:


by Peter Wagner, December 27, 2016

There is a great review of the new paperback edition of board member Jason Stanley’s How Propaganda Works in today’s New York Times. Jason is generously donating the royalties from this book, his fourth, to the Prison Policy Initiative.

As Jason explains in his board interview on our blog, mass incarceration has become “embedded into the moral, political, and economic life of our country.” Today’s review points out that the book is even more timely now in light of the recent election:

In this volume (originally published in hardcover in 2015), Mr. Stanley does not grapple directly with Mr. Trump’s rhetoric, or the role that “fake news” played in the 2016 election. But his book does provide some useful insights into the dangers of propaganda — and its reliance upon mangled facts; false claims; and reductive, Manichaean storytelling. He observes that demagogic speech in democracies often uses language that purports to support liberal democratic ideals (liberty, equality and objective reason) in “the service of undermining these ideals.” He points out that propaganda frequently raises fears that are likely to curtail rational debate — for instance “linking Saddam Hussein to international terrorism” after Sept. 11 — and that it may play upon deeper prejudices toward ethnic or religious groups that rob “us of the capacity for empathy toward them.”

At this moment, when crime is at near-record lows but a President-elect who argues that crime is high and rising is about to be inaugurated, understanding how propaganda works will be key to both fixing our criminal justice system and preserving our democracy.


by Wendy Sawyer, December 13, 2016

In case you missed it: Last week, the Prison Policy Initiative released a new report showing that people in Massachusetts’ poorest communities are disproportionately charged probation supervision fees. Our report, which comes on the heels of reports from the state Senate and Trial Court, adds to the mounting evidence that court fines and fees are overdue for a structural overhaul.

Our report is receiving some great press coverage:

Probation fees pose an undue burden
A Boston Globe editorial cites our report to argue that the Legislature should eliminate probation fees.

Probation fees hit poor the hardest, says report
Michael Jonas at CommonWealth magazine puts our report into the context of two recent reports on court fines and fees from the state Senate and Trial Court.

Editorial: State probation fees need reform
The Daily Hampshire Gazette cites our “eye opening” report in an editorial calling for reform.

Report: Probation costs fall disproportionately on the poorest
The Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Emily Cutts provides thorough coverage of our findings and Sen. Mike Barrett’s response.

Poverty, Punishment, and Probation: A Toxic Brew
WGBH’s Daniel Medwed gives some context to the issue of court fines and fees, relating the report to the practices uncovered in Ferguson, Missouri.

Nonprofit encourages elimination of probation fees
Shira Shoenberg provides another overview of the report’s findings and connections to the recommendations of the Trial Court’s report.

Report: Probation fees Hit Poor MA Communities the Hardest
Mike Clifford covers the report for the Public News Service, using one of our graphs.


by Peter Wagner, December 8, 2016

It’s been a big week for the movement for telephone justice:




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