There are so many ways to engage in social justice work, why focus on mass incarceration?


Mass incarceration and the United States criminal justice system is the human rights issue of the 21st century.   Although the U.S. only makes up 5% of the world’s population, it houses about 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. Moreover, numerous federal and state laws and policies violate internationally recognized human rights–especially in the areas of criminal justice, youth justice, and immigration. The whole world is watching as racial minorities, the poor, immigrants, and children suffer the worse human rights violations in the U.S. criminal justice system.


Social reform effectively targeting the problem of mass incarceration would produce progress in the most vital American institutions. Over-incarcerated communities share the common threads of poverty, educational disparity, poor health services, and disproportionate contact with the criminal justice system. These shared qualities suggest that addressing mass incarceration in a multi-disciplinary manner is necessary for sustainable systemic transformation.

Such an intersectional approach would produce objectives and reforms impacting a number of important social justice areas, such as:

economic justice;

K-12 education;

public and mental health;

and criminal justice/law enforcement;

among others.


Transforming jails and prisons means addressing the problem of institutional racism.  Whether you agree or not with Michelle Alexander’s claim in The New Jim Crow, that “the criminal justice system is driven by and exacerbates racial inequality,” Black men are incarcerated at six times the rate of White men.  Although racism is but one driving factor of mass incarceration, transforming jails and prisons means dismantling the U.S.’s long history of racism and violence in communities of color.