Prisons in the U.S.
Real Cost of Prisons Project
This activist group has been working to end mass incarceration in the U.S. since 2003. Their website includes a blog that is updated almost daily, with news related to the prison industry from across the country, and a comic book called Prison Town: Paying the Price, which is available for purchase from AK Press.
The site also features the original article that inspired “Prison Town, USA.” Author Joelle Fraser writes that “Bruce Springsteen never lived in Susanville, but if he had, he would have written a song about it, about the mills closed, and the mines, the army depot and about how everything the town relied on had slipped away like a woman who had seen something better on the other side of the road.” (PDF)
New York Times: Almost 10% of All Prisoners Now Serving Life Terms
This article explains why the number of inmates serving life sentences skyrocketed between 1992 and 2002, even as overall crime rates declined. (May 12, 2004; registration required.)
Open Society Institute: Big Prisons, Small Towns
The Open Society Institute and The MacArthur Foundation funded this comprehensive report on how prisons affect local rural economies. The study found that counties that had prisons did not see a significant shift in their unemployment rates. (2003, PDF)
Bureau of Justice Statistics: Correctional Populations
This chart from Bureau of Justice Statistics, the numbers warehouse at the U.S. Department of Justice, confirms that since 1980 the number of people “under correctional supervision” has risen from 1.8 million to over 7 million.
Urban Institute: The New Landscape of Imprisonment
This report maps the prison expansion and explains the impact on rural communities when inmates from cities are incarcerated far from home. It focuses on the ten states that have seen the greatest surge in prisons since 1980. (April 29, 2004)
Federal Bureau of Prisons
The Federal Bureau of Prisons has a handy clickable map that shows all of the federal correctional facilities throughout the U.S. The site also posts regulations and policies that shed light on the day-to-day operations of federal correctional facilities.
Three Strikes Law
Christian Science Monitor: State Re-thinks Three-strikes Law
The Christian Science Monitor explained how California’s three-strikes controversy was nationally significant: “If Californians were to allow judges more discretion in the sentencing of three-timers, their decision could be felt in about two dozen other states that enacted similar three strikes laws over the past 13 years.” (February 28, 2006)
60 Minutes II: Three Strikes: Penal Overkill in California?
The three strikes law has been hotly contested for years, and in 2003, the controversy made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. 60 Minutes II explains the history of the law and why some argue that it violates constitutional law. (July 9, 2003)
CNN: Supreme Court Upholds Long Sentences Under Three-Strikes-You’re-Out Law
As CNN explains, the court was sharply divided over whether or not three strikes laws amounted to “cruel and unusual punishment.” (March 5, 2005)
California Legislative Analyst’s Office: Three Strikes
The California’s Legislative Analyst’s office reported on the impact of the three strikes legislation ten years after it was implemented. This report details “legal milestones” in the three strikes law and explains in detail how the law has influenced California’s prison population. The report also includes data on differences in “offense categories” of second- and third-offenders. (October 2005)
San Francisco Chronicle: A case for California prison reform
This opinion piece argues for sentencing reform in California and calls the three strikes law “rigidly constructed.” (December 26, 2006)
Institute for Governmental Studies: Proposition 66: Limitations on Three Strikes Law
The Institute for Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, posted comprehensive information about the history of the three strikes law and includes a reading list. (December 2004)
Prison Reform Organizations
Justice Policy Institute
JPI is dedicated to “ending society’s reliance on incarceration and promoting effective and just solutions to social problems.” On its website, you’ll find an array of studies including “Swing States: Crime, Prisons and the Future of the Nation” and “Racial Divide: California’s Three Strikes Law.”
The Sentencing Project
This nonprofit organization, is a nationally recognized source of criminal justice policy analysis. Its site aggregates media coverage of the trend toward revisiting harsh drug-offence sentencing.
Prison Policy Initiative
This organization aggressively lobbies for prison reform and has detailed information on how U.S. Census figures are distorted by counting people in prisons. On the site, you can find a reprint of “Building a Prison Economy in Rural America,” a chapter from a book on mass incarceration.
Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons
This organization regards mass incarceration as a major public health issue, not just a public safety issue. “Confronting Confinement” is a lengthy report the commission issued in 2006 that states that “what happens inside jails and prisons does not stay inside jails and prisons.”
This national grassroots organization is dedicated to ending the “prison industrial complex.” On its site you’ll find a fact sheet on California’s prison expansion plans and links to regional organizations that assist prisoners and their families.
Also on PBS and NPR
Local PBS Station Websites
KQED: Truly CA – Prison Town, USA
Northern California-based PBS local station KQED is featuring “Prison Town, USA” as part of it’s Truly California: Our State, Our Stories series. Truly CA is KQED’s showcase for the best documentary films about California made by independent filmmakers. Visit the “Prison Town, USA” page for an interview with the filmmakers and a list of some of the new prisons that have opened in the U.S. since 2000. (July 29, 2007)
POV: The Legacy
Filmmaker Michael J. Moore followed the turbulent relationship of two grief-stricken fathers whose daughters’ senseless murders sparked the political firestorm of three-strikes legislation and media frenzy that would change the face of criminal justice in America. The film reveals the controversy behind laws of this kind and examines how the two men most responsible for “Three Strikes” went from being fervent allies to bitter rivals. (June 1, 1999)
Nightly Business Report: Work In Progress: A Second Chance
650,000 men and women are released from US prisons every year. Once released, many of these former inmates find it difficult to reenter the workforce and often end up back in prison. As part of the “Work in Progress” special, NBR Washington Bureau Chief Darren Gersh visits Louisiana to see what one state is doing to break the cycle of incarceration by easing prisoners’ reentry to free society. (December 19, 2006)
Tavis Smiley Show: Interview with Superior Court Judge Wendy Lindley
The vast majority of those who now clog our crowded courts and prisons are not hardcore criminals. More often than not they are homeless, mentally ill, drug and alcohol abusers, or just someone in need of assistance to get their lives back on track. Tavis Smiley talks with Judge Wendy Lindley, the designer of a “one-stop shop” assistance program aimed at rehabilitating repeat offenders. (April 19, 2005)
Wall $treet Week with FORTUNE: Prisons
The prisoner-abuse scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq has highlighted the often-overlooked role of private contractors in government-run prisons. That role is not always scandal-tainted — publicly traded companies have been running prisons here in the U.S. for years. Wall $treet Week with FORTUNE contributor Michael Farr has looks into the trend from a business perspective. (June 11, 2004)
Frontline: Drug Wars
This two-part series depicts the struggle from both sides of the battlefield — a 30-year history of America’s war on drugs. The site includes candid interviews with DEA, FBI, Customs, and court officials. (October 2000)
NewsHour with Jim Lehrer: Three Strikes
Spencer Michels and Elizabeth Farnsworth explore how three-strikes laws are enacted in different states and talk about doubts about California’s three-strikes law with experts. (August 23, 2004)
NewsHour with Jim Lehrer: Paying for Crime
In recent decades, California state prisons have been a growth industry, with the state building an average of a prison a year. Now, the system is overcrowded and costs $5 billion a year. In the face of a record deficit, some California lawmakers advocated cutting the budget for correctional facilities. (February 21, 2003)
Back to the Floor
In a special PBS series, the CEO of Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the world’s largest builder and operator of privately run prisons, dons a prison guard’s uniform for the first time ever to work at one of his company’s institutions. (July 2002)
Talk of the Nation: Can the American Prison System Be Fixed?
Some 2.2 million Americans are behind bars, at a cost of $60 billion a year. A recent report harshly criticizes the state of America’s prison system. The report says prisoners are locked up and forgotten, creating hardened criminals and a cycle of crime. Guests include Alex Busansky, executive director of the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons; Dr. Rick Dudley, psychiatrist and one of the commissioners for the report; and Martin Horn, commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction. (June 13, 2006)
The Tavis Smiley Show: Proposition 66 and California’s Three Strikes Law
California’s Proposition 66 would amend that state’s famous Three Strikes law to exclude non-violent offenders. NPR’s Tony Cox speaks with Joe Domanick, author of Cruel Justice: Three Strikes and the Politics of Crime in America’s Golden State, Holly Houston, a member of FACTS, (Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes Law) and Camerino Sanchez, police chief of Santa Barbara, Calif. (October 29, 2004)
Morning Edition: Proposal Would Limit Three Strikes Law
Berkeley law professor Franklin Zimring talks about California ballot Proposition 66, which would limit the scope of the state’s current three strikes law. Hear NPR’s Renee Montagne and Zimring. (October 26, 2004)
Day to Day: 10th Anniversary for California’s ‘Three Strikes’ Law
Alex Cohen reports on the 10th anniversary of California’s “three strikes” law requiring tough mandatory sentences for repeat felons. Proponents credit the law for falling crime rates, but critics say the policy is fundamentally unfair. (March 8, 2004)
Morning Edition: Inmates on the Move
North Country Public Radio’s Brian Mann reports from New York on the practice of moving inmates from urban prisons to less crowded, rural facilities. The longer distance between prisoners and their relatives often results in fewer visits, but the trend toward shifting inmates farther away from home is spreading nationwide. Experts are worried about the impact that will have on them, their families, and society. (May 31, 2000)
Talk of the Nation: What Happened to Rehabilitating Prisoners?
“Lock ’em up and throw away the key” may sound good, but the fact is, most prisoners aren’t serving life sentences. It would seem to be in our best interest to reform convicts before they hit the street again, but advocating prisoner rehabilitation is not exactly politically fashionable. Join Ray Suarez and guests to examine the difficulties of rehabilitation. (September 21, 1999)