Harnessing the Power of the Public for Bold Change

  Monday, February 13th, marked the five-year anniversary of the founding of Californians for Safety and Justice, an advocacy organization seeking to replace prison and justice system waste with smarter safety solutions that save public dollars, in the state with the largest corrections system in the nation. We began this journey with a fundamental belief: Californians of all walks of life were ready for large-scale change. The incarceration-first approaches of the … [Read more...]

Everything You Think You Know About Mass Incarceration Is Wrong

Or at least misleading, says this contrarian scholar. Here’s why it matters. Critics of the prison-happy American criminal justice system tend to subscribe to a narrative that goes like this: Mass incarceration was ignited by the war on drugs (blame Nixon or Reagan), was pumped up by draconian sentencing and is now sustained by a “prison industrial complex” that puts profit before humane treatment and rehabilitation. John Pfaff, in his provocative new book, “Locked In,” calls this the “Standard … [Read more...]

Dutch Get Creative to Solve a Prison Problem: Too Many Empty Cells

The Netherlands has a problem many countries can only dream of: a shortage of prison inmates. While countries like Belgium, Britain, Haiti, Italy, the United States and Venezuela have grappled with prison overcrowding, the Netherlands has such a surplus of unused cells that it has rented some of its prisons to Belgium and Norway. It has also turned about a dozen former prisons into centers for asylum seekers. About a third of Dutch prison cells sit empty, according to the Ministry of … [Read more...]

Obama Legacy of Freeing Prisoners May Come Under Trump Siege

More than any administration in recent history, the Obama White House has focused on a law enforcement mission that might seem antithetical to hard-nosed prosecutors: getting criminal offenders out of jail early and trying to give them the skills to stay out. With a flurry of prison and sentencing initiatives in recent months, the Justice Department has worked to finish an eight-year initiative that Mr. Obama’s attorney general, Loretta Lynch, predicted in an interview would make a “significant … [Read more...]

Gang Database Criticized for Denying Due Process May Be Used for Deportations

Peter Arellano was standing on the street with his father last year when an officer from the Los Angeles Police Department handcuffed him, supposedly for vandalism a few blocks away. Before asking him for any information about the incident, the police officer asked him for his gang moniker, Mr. Arellano said. He told the officer he had none. But moments later, Mr. Arellano was served with a gang injunction, restricting where he could go in public and with whom. “There wasn’t a chance to argue … [Read more...]

Why Keep Old and Sick Behind Bars?

Anyone who visits a prison these days might be shocked to see what looks more like a nursing home with bars and metal detectors. Prisoners put away years ago under the wave of draconian sentencing are now turning gray and frail, suffering from heart disease and hypertension and feeling the effects of Alzheimer’s and other age-related illnesses. Corrections officials once thought they had time to prepare for this, but something unexpected happened. Federal data shows that prison inmates age … [Read more...]

Another Century of Mass Incarceration?

It’s that time of the year again, when many of us like to take stock and commit to changes that will bring us closer to our goals. It’s not a bad time for policymakers to do the same. Here at the Prison Policy Initiative, we often find it useful to look back at how our criminal justice system has evolved over time. Year-to-year fluctuations are less distracting from that perspective, so we can also identify the pivotal political changes that have had truly dramatic impacts, like the “tough on … [Read more...]

U.S. Correctional Population at Lowest Level in Over a Decade

The nation’s jail and prison population decreased in 2015, according to federal data released last Thursday, and the number of adults locked up or on parole or probation fell to a level not seen since 2002 while overall crime continued to drop. Reasons for the declining incarceration rates include the federal prison system releasing thousands of nonviolent drug offenders in 2015 and states seeking to save money by enacting legislation and policies to reduce prison populations. In … [Read more...]

LA County Jails Knowingly Expose Prisoners to Deadly Fungal Infection

For nearly three years, the LA No More Jails Coalition has been organizing against the construction of a new women's jail in the city of Lancaster, California, which sits at the northern edge of LA County -- home to the largest jail system in the country. The fight has been a long one, and organizers continue to work to ensure that public funds are diverted away from another jail, and instead invested toward alternatives -- diversion programs that would get people released and much needed … [Read more...]

Trump Sets Private Prisons Free

Going into Election Day, few industries seemed in worse shape than America’s private prisons. Prison populations, which had been rising for decades, were falling. In 2014, Corrections Corporation of America, the biggest private-prison company in the U.S., lost its contract to run Idaho’s largest prison, after lawsuits relating to understaffing and violence that had earned the place the nickname Gladiator School. There were press exposés of shocking conditions in the industry and signs of a … [Read more...]