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Mass Incarceration

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

States of Incarceration

Still from the States of Incarceration. The foreground has a blue box with white text with a lyric from the song "The Don" by rapper Nas. The background shows a white bus on a road next to a sign that says "You are entering Rikers Island."

The New School and Fortune Society curated an exhibition about the Rikers Island jail complex: New York: Rikers Island, NY 11370: In Plain Sight.

The States of Incarceration project focuses on the past, present, and future of incarceration, exploring the explosion of prisons and incarcerated people in the U.S. — including immigration detention centers — and its global dimensions. States of Incarceration, an initiative of the Humanities Action Lab, brings together a national community of over 800 people in 18 states who together created a traveling exhibit, web platform, and series of public dialogues.

The States of Incarceration Toolkit contains research guides, curatorial specifications, teaching resources, best practices for community partnerships, and discussion guides for classrooms and community organizations.

University Partners offer one or more courses through which students, in collaboration with Issue Partners, create a local "chapter" of the States of Incarceration exhibit and web platform. Universities also host the exhibit and public dialogues focusing on incarceration issues most pressing for their communities. Students at the New School and members of the Fortune Society established the States of Incarceration chapter in New York City.

Prison Public Memory Project

The Prison Public Memory Project uses public history, art, story-telling, and media to engage communities in conversation about the complex roles of prisons in America. The Project works with individuals and organizations in communities with prisons across the United States to recover, preserve, interpret, present, and honor the memories of what took place in those institutions. 

The Prison Public Memory Project began its work in the historic old river town of Hudson, New York in 2011 and launched the Hudson Prison Memory Project in 2015. In 2017, the Prison Public Memory Project launched its second site of prison memory in Pontiac, Illinois, host to the historic Pontiac Correctional Center.

Mass Incarceration: An Animated Series

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) works in the courts, legislatures, and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States. The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice aims to reduce the national prison and jail population by half. The campaign is also working to lessen the barriers formerly incarcerated people face as they reenter their communities and to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

Illustration from Mass Incarceration: The Animated Series. A man is in the center of the image surrounded by high-rise buildings.

In 2018, the ACLU premiered "Mass Incarceration: An Animated Series," three animated short films profiling formerly incarcerated people. The stories of Lavette Mayes, Jason Hernandez, and Johnny Perez explore the trauma, stigmatization, and socio-economic difficulties that can arise in the aftermath of imprisonment.

Visit the ACLU website to learn more about "Mass Incarceration: An Animated Series" and watch the films.

New York Public Library Correctional Services

The New York Public Library (NYPL) Correctional Services team provides books and programming to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated New Yorkers and their families. The Library fills critical gaps in New York’s correctional system by helping individuals develop and sustain a love of reading and a lifelong pursuit of knowledge. 

Each year, they publish Connections, NYC’s most exhaustive directory of resources for formerly incarcerated people and social service providers. Over 500 organizations are listed covering employment, housing, education, health, legal services, and much more. Connections: A Free Guide for Formerly Incarcerated People is available in English and Spanish.

Visit the NYPL Correctional Services website to learn more about their services and read Connections.

Reading Lists and Toolkits


The National Black Women's Justice Institute works to reduce racial and gender disparities across the justice continuum affecting Black women, girls, and their families, by conducting research, providing technical assistance, engaging in public education, promoting civic engagement, and advocating for informed and effective policies.

The Equal Justice Initiative is a non-profit organization working to end mass incarceration and excessive punishment via imprisonment prevalent in the United States justice system. The organization produces reports and educational materials on topics related to mass incarceration while generating conversations on criminal justice reform.

The non-profit, non-partisan Prison Policy Initiative produces cutting edge research to expose the broader harm of mass criminalization and then sparks advocacy campaigns to create a more just society. The Prison Policy Initiative website features a Data Toolbox with unique datasets.

Just Detention International is a health and human rights organization that seeks to end sexual abuse in all forms of detention. Just Detention International publishes a range of materials on sexual violence in detention centers, including fact sheets, reports, and a Resource Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse Behind Bars.