The Prison Policy Initiative’s research and advocacy is at the center of the national conversation about criminal justice reform and over-criminalization. Because essential national and state level data is often completely inaccessible, the Prison Policy Initiative’s insightful data analysis and powerful graphics help fill these gaps to bring in new supporters and help other movement leaders achieve their goals.
WHO WE ARE
Peter Wagner co-founded the Prison Policy Initiative in 2001 to document and publicize how mass incarceration punishes our entire society. Our staff members shape national reform campaigns from our office in Western Massachusetts.
OUR BIGGEST VICTORIES
The Prison Policy Initiative is known for delivering big results with a small budget, including:
– Empowering our movement with the big picture with Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie. This ground-breaking report assembles data on everyone who is incarcerated or confined in different kinds of prisons, jails, and other correctional and detention facilities in the U.S. The main graphic has become the most widely-used visual in the field.
– Giving advocates in every state — even those with relatively progressive policies — the message, data and visuals they need to show that their state’s use of incarceration is out of line with the international community.
– Bringing fairness to the prison and jail phone industry. Some children had to pay $1/minute for a call home from an incarcerated parent. Our research and advocacy led the Federal Communications Commission to lower the cost of calls home from prisons and jails.
– Demonstrating that incarceration in every state — even those with relatively progressive policies — is out of line with the international community with the report and interactive graphic States of Incarceration: The Global Context.
– Protecting our democracy from the undue influence of the prison system. Our campaign against prison gerrymandering has changed how legislative districts are drawn in nine states and 200+ municipalities.
– Protecting family visits from the predatory video call industry that seeks to replace traditional in-person visits with expensive video chats. We’ve put this predatory industry on the national agenda and we’ve won in Massachusetts, California, Texas, Illinois, and Portland, Oregon.
When the federal government stopped publishing state-level racial disparity data for prisons and jails in 2006, we found a way to fill that gap and give state-advocates the data they need to hold their state accountable.
The Prison Policy Initiative's publications include "Importing Constituents: Prisoners and Political Clout in New York", "Why the Census Bureau can and must start collecting the home addresses of incarcerated people", and "Phantom constituents in the Empire State: How outdated Census Bureau methodology burdens New York counties". It has also published the Democracy Toolkit , an internet tool designed for rural democracy activists, allowing them to use PPI's research procedures to study their own communities.
PPI published the first empirical, district-by-district analysis of the effects of Census Bureau methodology which counts prisoners as residents of towns containing prisons, not their pre-incarceration addresses, and has since been the leading critic of the practice (which it calls "prisoner miscount") and the distortion of equal representation it causes. Executive director Peter Wagner has testified on the issue before the National Academies and the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Apportionment. The Census Bureau's scientific advisors at the United States National Research Council have now recommended that the Bureau begin to collect prisoners' home address information, and the New York Times editorial board has repeatedly supported PPI's calls for reform. Once an unknown issue, the problem of prisoner miscount has now been identified as "the most controversial issue for the 2010 census."
Prison and jail telephone industry
PPI's two reports on the prison and jail phone industry explain why the industry must be regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. The reports explain that prison phone bills are so high because of a unique market failure: prison systems and local jails award monopoly contracts to the phone company that will charge the highest rates and share as much as 84% of the profits with the facility. The real customers, the families paying the hefty bills, are left entirely out of the decision-making process. In fact, both parties to these contracts profit from disregarding the interests of the actual consumers of prison telephone services. Aside from the high rates, fees also have an enormous impact on prison phone bills, making up 38% of the $1 billion annual price of calling home.
Jail letter bans
The Prison Policy Initiative published the first-in-the-nation report on the new jail trend of banning letters from home and requiring loved ones to write on public postcards. The National Institute of Corrections called the report, "required reading for policy makers and anyone working with individuals in jail custody."
Sentencing enhancement zones
Many states have laws that enhance sentences based on where an offense takes place. These laws aim to deter offenses near places such as schools, but when the protected areas are too big, the deterrence effect is lost and these policies end up increasing harmful racial disparities. The Prison Policy Initiative's research demonstrated that a Massachusetts drug law that set the penalty by where the offense is located — and not the harm caused by the offense — does not work, can never work, and has serious negative effects. The recommendations of the Prison Policy Initiative's two reports were endorsed by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and led to a change in the law.
EASTHAMPTON, MA 01027-2240 | Tax-exempt since June 2006
Classification (NTEE) Voter Education, Registration (Civil Rights, Social Action, Advocacy)
Nonprofit Tax Code Designation: 501(c)(3) Defined as: Organizations for any of the following purposes: religious, educational, charitable, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition (as long as it doesn’t provide athletic facilities or equipment), or the prevention of cruelty to children or animals.
Donations to this organization are tax deductible.