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Mass Incarceration: Home

A research guide on mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex.

Subject Librarian

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Jill Conte

Bobst Library, Mezzanine

Phone: 212.998.2622

Reference Associate

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Maria Mejia

What is Mass Incarceration?

Defining a term or phrase can lay the foundation for your research project.

The definitions below are from the Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. Browse the databases listed on the Encyclopedias & Dictionaries page for more sources.

Mass Incarceration

"Mass incarceration is the major increase in the number of people in prison in the United States that began in the mid-1970s. This figure rose 500 percent between 1980 and 2014, with one out of every 31 U.S. adults, or an estimated 2 to 3 million people, behind bars. A disproportionate number of people incarcerated for nonviolent crime were people of color, particularly African American men. With the largest prison system of any country in the world, the United States spends approximately $79 billion a year on corrections." 

Read the full Mass Incarceration entry in the Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History.


Prison Industrial Complex

"The prison industrial complex is made up of companies and politicians that benefit from the growing number of private prisons and inmates in the United States. The term is derived from the so-called military industrial complex, which emerged in the United States after World War II (1939–45) as private interests became increasingly entangled with public interests in the national defense industry. The prison industry provides services ranging from inmate housing and health care to food and transportation. Beneficiaries include impoverished rural areas that have come to rely on private prisons to sustain the local economy, as well as wealthy Wall Street investment firms that deal in shares of publicly traded private prison corporation stocks. Since the 1980s the business of private prisons in the United States has evolved from a small, niche market into a recession-proof multibillion-dollar industry. "

Read the full Prison Industrial Complex entry in the Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History.

Programs at New York University

In addition to the resources highlighted in this research guide, the following programs at New York University can offer support:

The Mass Incarceration Conversation Series (MICS) is a project at the NYU Silver School of Social Work that aims to foster dialogue amongst people impacted by mass incarceration, social workers, clinical practitioners, policy makers, academics, community members, and people working at the various intersections of this critical phenomenon.

NYU Center for Multicultural Education and Programs (CMEP) covers four main areas of programming: community building; leadership development; social justice education; and student achievement. The Center also acts in collaboration with partners across campus to organize university-wide diversity initiatives and reactive programs that respond to national events. The Center hosts Zone Trainings to provide participants with the knowledge and tools to connect issues of identity, diversity and social justice. Among the zones available is the Justice Zone (formerly Diversity Zone), intended to facilitate understanding of frequently used concepts such as diversity, equity, and social justice through the lens of race and racism.

The Incarceration to Education Coalition (IEC) is a group of New York University community members working to end discrimination against formerly incarcerated NYU applicants and applicants with criminal records. The group is made up of students (both with and without criminal records), faculty, alumni and public supporters. The group is currently campaigning to "Abolish The Box," calling for the complete removal of the question on NYU applications asking for the disclosure of a person's history within the criminal punishment system.

NYU Prison Education Program (PEP) is a college program that offers an Associate of Arts degree and educational programming to men incarcerated at Wallkill Correctional Facility in Ulster County, New York. By offering transferrable credits, and resources for developing critical skills and relationships, NYU PEP is committed to supporting the academic and professional goals for students both in prison and upon their release.