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Incarcerated Populations

The scope of this guide is meant to inform all who interact with it on related issues to mass incarceration and link interested parties to data and advocacy resources.

An image from a protest where a man is speaking into a bullhorn.

Photo via Unsplash

Linked Issues

Research on incarceration and the American legal system can be complicated, as there are several related issues that coincide with current efforts. See below for some examples of linked issues to incarceration, definitions/summaries of each topic, and several resources related to each subject area.

Prison Abolition and Reform

The prison abolition movement is a growing social and political movement that challenges current approaches to crime response. Rooted in principles of justice, equity, and human rights, prison abolition seeks to dismantle the Prison-Industrial Complex by encouraging alternative systems of corrections.

The following organizations are active and vocal in their stances against mass incarceration. Select each organization title for more information.

Capital Punishment

In the United States, each state individually determines the provision and administration of the death penalty. The topic of the death penalty is surrounded by controversy, with many critiquing that it is an inhumane and irreversible practice which could be considered unconstitutional.

To learn more about the death penalty, review the sources below.

Prison Conditions

Discussions of mass incarceration and prison advocacy frequently note the inhumane conditions of the prison and jail facilities and the poor quality of life of those that are incarcerated. Issues such as overcrowding, lack of access to quality healthcare, and an unsanitary environment significantly impair the quality of life of millions of prisoners nationwide. 

There are several initiatives at work to encourage the improvement of these facilities and educate on current conditions - check out the links below to learn more.

Restorative Justice

Restorative justice is a relatively new movement in prison advocacy that encourages the rehabilitation of those that are incarcerated in order for them to reenter society upon release. More and more restorative justice programs/initiatives are being established nationwide, and as a practice it's shown not only to decrease recidivism, but to reduce fear of revictimization in the victims impacted (Umbreit, M.S., 1998).

Voting Rights

In 2022, approximately 4.6 million people were disenfranchised due to a felony conviction, costing them their right to vote (Uggen et al., 2022). Even in states where those that are incarcerated are permitted to vote, there are several barriers that exist to make voting difficult within prisons and jails (Vasilogambros, 2021).

To learn more about legislation and initiatives related to voting in the US prison system, check out the sources below.

Access to Information

Another relevant topic to incarcerated individuals who are actively in carceral facilities is the access they have to information. Some of the main ways that information is disseminated is online - but in prisons and jails, inmates don't have consistent access to the Internet. Incarcerated individuals get their information in print, on TV, and/or on the radio.

Some carceral facilities have libraries available that provide a collection of print resources for incarcerated individuals to access (books, newspapers, etc.). However, not all carceral institutions have libraries available, and those that do are vastly underfunded. Additionally, in some facilities, inmates are charged to use these resources by the minute (instead of being able to access them freely).

Learn more about initiatives that exist to combat these barriers to information access below.

Solitary Confinement

Solitary confinement is a controversial practice in correctional facilities that involves placing individuals in small, single-occupancy cells for extended periods of time. This practice is also referred to as "restrictive housing" as well as "segregated housing" in criminal justice literature. 

Several studies have shown that prolonged isolation leads to drastic impacts on mental health (especially for individuals with pre-existing mental health conditions). These impacts include increased risk self-harm and mortality after release.

To learn more about risks, common misconceptions, and alternatives to solitary confinement, check out the sites linked below.

Police Brutality

When discussing incarceration, we would be remiss to leave out conversations regarding police brutality and the excessive use of force. According to the 2022 Police Violence Report, 1,194 people were killed by the police.

The following resources provide data and statistical information for those wanting to study police brutality.