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I co-founded the Prison Policy Initiative to put the problem of mass incarceration — and the perverse incentives that fuel it — on the national agenda. Over the last 16 years, our campaigns have protected our democracy from the prison system and protected the poorest families in this country from the predatory prison telephone industry. Our reports untangle the statistics and recruit new allies.

But now, more than ever, we need your help to put data & compassion into the conversation. Any gift you can make today will be matched by other donors and go twice as far.

Thank you.
—Peter Wagner, Executive DirectorDonate

Public Health

Graph charts the suicide rates for local jails, state prisons, and the general American population from 2000 to 2014. The jail suicide rate is out of step with the nation and prisons. The common assumption that incarceration exists separate from our communities just isn’t true. Almost everyone in prison or jail today will eventually be released, and their experiences while incarcerated impact their chances of success — and their needs — when they return home.

Graph charts the suicide rates for local jails, state prisons, and the general American population from 2000 to 2014. The jail suicide rate is out of step with the nation and prisons. The Prison Policy Initiative explores the negative health outcomes shared by communities that are hit hardest by incarceration. By making these connections, we find that funding health, education, job, and housing programs can be a more effective crime control strategy than policing and incarceration.

Below is some of our key research on how incarceration impacts community health and wellbeing:

report thubmnailThe steep cost of medical co-pays in prison puts health at risk

For some incarcerated people, a doctor’s visit can cost almost an entire month’s pay. Unaffordable medical fees deter imprisoned people from seeking the medical treatment they need, and represent one of the many ways in which our counterproductive criminal justice system jeopardizes the health of incarcerated populations, staff, and the public.


report thubmnailFood for thought: Prison food is a public health problem

We connect the dots between prison food, nutrition, and public health. The takeaway? Prison food is not just gross; it is often nutritionally inadequate.


report thubmnailThe life-threatening reality of short jail stays

BJS data shows suicide is still the leading cause of death in local jails. And most suicides occur shortly after jail admission.


report thubmnailFather’s Day behind bars

An increasing number of fathers spend Father’s Day away from their loved ones. The holiday is reminder that incarceration affects entire families.


report thubmnailIt’s not just the franchise: Mass incarceration undermines political engagement

The lasting psychological effects of incarceration include feelings of social isolation, mistrust, and political alienation. After release, formerly incarcerated people are less politically engaged, and this has a ripple effect on communities.

report thubmnailBJS data shows graying of prisons

People age 55 and over are the fastest growing age group in the U.S. prison population. States will need to act now to ensure older incarcerated people are properly cared for, or better yet, released back to the community.

Analysis shows people in NYC jails would be better served in the community

A recent analysis finds that the most frequently incarcerated in New York City jails struggle with mental illness and are locked up for low-level offenses.


See also

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