Sentencing and Prisons

Alcatraz Prison in San Francisco Bay, California.  Photo credit:  Sean Hobson | CC2.0, Flickr


sentencing and prisons

These resources explore moral and ethical challenges related to criminal justice in general, and sentencing and prisons in particular. Two forms of slavery continued in the U.S. even after the Civil War and the passage of the 13th Amendment: slavery in prison and slavery by human trafficking. We pay special attention to how God’s creation order and God’s vision for relationships between human beings impacts the field of criminal justice. For resources on race-based slavery, see this page.

Books and Articles on Sentencing and Prisons

Human Rights Defense Center (website)

The Real Cost of Prisons Project (website)

Drug War Facts (website)

Boycott Companies That Use Prison Labor (website)

Harry Elmer Barnes, Historical Origin of the Prison System in America (Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 1921)

Dylan Rodriguez, Forced Passages: Imprisoned Radical Intellectuals and the U.S. Prison Regime (Amazon book, Jan 1, 2006)

Vicky Peleaz, The Prison Industry in the United States: Big Business or a New Form of Slavery? (Global Research, Mar 10, 2008)

Greg A. Greenberg and Robert A. Rosenheck, Jail Incarceration, Homelessness, and Mental Health: A National Study (Journal of Psychiatric Services, 2008)

Ian Urbina and Sean D. Hamill, Judges Plead Guilty in Scheme to Jail Youths for Profit (NY Times, Feb 12, 2009)

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (Amazon book, Jan 2010)

Brahma Chellaney, China's Newest Export: Convicts (The Guardian, Jul 29, 2010)

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow (youtube video, Dec 15, 2010) 20 min interview

Justice Policy Institute, Sentencing Factsheet (JPI, Apr 2011)

Justice Policy Institute, Punitive Response to Drug Use Factsheet (JPI, Apr 2011)

Eyder Paralta, Pa. Judge Sentenced To 28 Years In Massive Juvenile Justice Bribery Scandal (NPR, Aug 11, 2011)

Harry Davis, On His Film JOY ROAD and the Prison Industrial Complex (Reel Black, Oct 14, 2011)

Noam Chomsky and Glenn Greenwald, How the Law is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful (CSpan video, Oct 29, 2011)

Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration: No Place for Kids (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2011)

Michael Kelly, 13 Signs that America's Prison System is Out of Control (Business Insider, Apr 12, 2012)

Joe Palazzolo, Racial Gap in Men's Sentencing (WSJ, Feb 14, 2013)

Sam Masters, US Judge Receives 28 Year Jail Term for His Role in Kids-for-Cash Kickbacks (Independent UK, Apr 30, 2013)

The House I Live In (2013), documentary arguing that the U.S. War on Drugs has failed

Bruce Drake, Incarceration Rate Widens Between Blacks and Whites (Pew Research Center, Sep 6, 2013)

Chris Kirkham, Prisoners of Profit (Huffington Post, Oct 22, 2013) and part 2 (Oct 23, 2013)

Jaisal Noor, Corporations Reap Billions From Mass Incarceration (Truthout, Oct 23, 2013)

The Young Review, Improving Outcomes for Young Black and/or Muslim Men in the Criminal Justice System (Clink, Oct 2013)

Ram Subramanian and Alison Shames, Sentencing and Prison Practices in Germany and the Netherlands: Implications for the U.S. (VERA, Oct 2013)

Nicholas Kristof, Serving Life for This? (NY Times opinion, Nov 13, 2013)

American Civil Liberties Union, A Living Death: Sentenced to Die Behind Bars for What? (ACLU, Nov 13, 2013) report

American Civil Liberties Union, More Than 3,200 Serving Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses (ACLU, Nov 13, 2013) summary article

Bobby Constantino, I Got Myself Arrested So I Could Look into the Justice System (The Atlantic, Dec 17, 2013)

Paul Lewis, Obama Commutes Sentences of Eight Crack Cocaine Offenders (The Guardian, Dec 19, 2013)

Mariame Caba, Fifteen Things That We Relearned About the Prison Industrial Complex in 2013 (Truthout, Dec 20, 2013)

The Sentencing Project, Race and Punishment: Racial Perceptions of Crime and Support for Punitive Policies (The Sentencing Project, 2014)

Andrew Cohen, When Good People Do Nothing: The Appalling Story of South Carolina's Prisons (The Atlantic, Jan 10, 2014) re: mental health and incarceration

Michael Kelly and Christina Sterbenz, This World Map Shows the Enormity of America's Prison Problem (Business Insider, Jan 24, 2014)

Paul Martin, Money-Driven Criminal Justice System Drives Poverty, Crime Rate (The Durham News, Feb 14, 2014)

Angela Davis, Prison Abolition, the War on Drugs and Why Social Movements Shouldn't Wait on Obama (Democracy Now, Mar 6, 2014)

Keegan Hamilton, An Ex-Con Takes Aim at Multibillion-Dollar Private Prisons (Vice News, Mar 22, 2014)

Jamelle Bouie, Why Whites Support Capital Punishment (Slate, Mar 28, 2014)

Matt Taibbi, Who Goes to Jail? The American Justice Gap from Wall Street to Main Street (Democracy Now, Apr 15, 2014)

Matt Ferner, Christian Leaders Call for Ending Drug War, Mass Incarceration (Huffington Post, Apr 16, 2014)

Dan Edge and Elizabeth Jones, Solitary Nation (PBS Frontline, Apr 22, 2014)

John Oliver, The Death Penalty (Last Week Tonight video, May 4, 2014)

Ryan Denson, Billionaire Gets 4 MONTHS For Sexually Assaulting 12-Year-Old Because He’s ‘Productive’ (Addicting Info, Jun 7, 2014)

John Oliver, Prison (Last Week Tonight video, Jun 20, 2014)

Chris Moore, Whole Foods Cheese is Made by Prison Labor (Mass Appeal, Jun 24, 2014)

Laura Dimon, How Solitary Confinement Hurts the Teenage Brain (The Atlantic, Jun 30, 2014)

Trish Kahle, Prison to Table: The Other Side of the Whole Foods Experience (Dissent, Jul 9, 2014)

Pamela Engel, John Oliver Brilliantly Tears Apart America's Broken Prison System (Business Insider, Jul 21, 2014)

Heather Digby Parton, Scalia’s Utter Moral Failure: How He Destroys Any Claim to a Superior System of Justice (Salon, Sep 8, 2014)

Martha Minow, We Must Ensure Everyone Has Access to Equal Justice (Boston Globe, Oct 23, 2014) '

Victoria Law, Why Prisons Don’t Work And How We Can Do Better (Popular Resistance, Nov 16, 2014)

Michelle Alexander, White Privilege and the War on Drugs (video, Dec 2, 2014)

The Young Turks, George Stinney, 14, Executed In Vile Act Of Injustice, Exonerated 70s Years Late (The Young Turks video, Dec 18, 2014)

Steve Benen, This Week in God, 12.20.14 (MSNBC, Dec 20, 2014) showing how White Protestants and Catholics believe more than the non-religious that torture is justified

Wash Post Editorial Board, Stop Mistreating Youth at Rikers Island and Other Institutions Around the Country (Washington Post, Dec 21, 2014)

Prison Policy, States of Incarceration (website, 2014) comparing U.S. States against other countries on incarceration rates

Willie Osterweil, How White Liberals Used Civil Rights to Create More Prisons (The Nation, Jan 6, 2015)

Evan Horowitz, If Crime is Falling, Why Aren't Prisons Shrinking (Boston Globe, Jan 15, 2015)

Leon Neyfakh, Why Are So Many Americans in Prison? (Slate, Feb 6, 2015) about the role of District Attorneys

John Hagan, Gabriele Plickert, Alberto Palloni, Spencer Headworth, Making Punishment Pay: The Political Economy of Revenue, Race, and Regime in the California Prison Boom (Du Bois Journal, Mar 2015)

Mark Binelli, Inside America's Toughest Federal Prison (NY Times, Mar 26, 2015)

Joseph Erbentraut, What the U.S. Can Learn from Prison Reform Efforts Throughout the World (Huffington Post, Apr 10, 2015)

Alec Karakatsanis, Policing, Mass Imprisonment, and the Failure of America's Lawyers (Harvard Law Review, Apr 10, 2015)

Justin Wolfers, David Leonhardt, and Kevin Quealy, 1.5 Million Missing Black Men (NY Times, Apr 20, 2015)

Michael Cohen, How For-Profit Prisons Have Become the Biggest Lobby No One Is Talking About (Washington Post, Apr 28, 2015)

Jeffrey Toobin, The Milwaukee Experiment (New Yorker Magazine, May 11, 2015)

Yawu Miller, Race Colors Response to Opioid Crisis (Bay State Banner, May 20, 2015)

Bill Quigley, 40 Reasons Why Our Jails Are Full of Black and Brown People (Huffington Post, Jun 2, 2015)

David J. Krajicek, Birth of a Prison State: The Bipartisan Disaster That Puts America Behind Bars (Salon, Jun 4, 2015)

John Oliver, Bail (Last Week Tonight, Jun 7, 2015)

Matt Ford, America's Largest Mental Hospital is a Jail (The Atlantic, Jun 8, 2015)

Kaia Stern, Voices from American Prisons: Faith, Education, and Healing (Amazon book, Jun 10, 2015)

Maria Konnikova, The Real Lesson of the Stanford Prison Experiment (New Yorker, Jun 12, 2015)

M. David, Private Prisons Threaten to Sue States Unless They Get More Inmates For Free Labor (Countercurrent News, Jun 24, 2015)

Aviva Shen, Justice Scalia Just Took An Important Swing At Mandatory Minimums (Think Progress, Jun 26, 2015)

Jon Basil Utley, Why We Need Criminal Justice Reform (The American Conservative, Jul 8, 2015)

Amme Voz, I Thought I'd Escaped Poverty. Then I Went to Prison (The Nation, Jul 13, 2015)

Colleen Curry, Whole Foods, Expensive Cheese, and the Dilemma of Cheap Prison Labor (Vice News, Jul 21, 2015)

John Oliver, Mandatory Minimums (Last Week Tonight, Jul 26, 2015)

George Yancy and Joe Feagin, American Racism in the "White Frame" (NY Times, Jul 27, 2015)

LSPC Admin, Obama Won't Reform Prisons by Focusing Only on Those Convicted of Nonviolent Drug Offenses (Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Jul 30, 2015)

Nicholas Turner and Jeremy Travis, What We Learned From German Prisons (NY Times, Aug 6, 2015)

E. Branch, Bernie Sanders Announces Bill To Abolish For-Profit Prison Industrial Complex (Occupy Democrats, Aug 20, 2015)

Stephanie Clifford, From the Bench, a New Look at Punishment (NY Times, Aug 26, 2015)

Kelley Davidson, These 7 Household Names Make a Killing Off of the Prison-Industrial Complex (US Uncut, Aug 30, 2015)

Jeffrey Goldberg, Sam Price-Waldman, Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg, Angola for Life: Rehabilitation and Reform Inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary (The Atlantic video, Sep 9, 2015)

Jackie Lay, Bruce Western, Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Mass Incarceration, Visualized (The Atlantic video, Sep 11, 2015) excellent 3 minutes

Whitney Benns, American Slavery, Reinvented (The Atlantic, Sep 21, 2015)

Counter Current News Editorial Team, More Prisoners Proven To Be Wrongfully Convicted Than Ever Before (Counter Current, Sep 19, 2015) a strangely disturbing trend for recent times

Susan Ferrechio, Prison Reform Brings Parties Together (Washington Examiner, Sep 28, 2015)

Allison Aubrey, Whole Foods Says It Will Stop Selling Foods Made With Prison Labor (NPR, Sep 30, 2015)

Carrie Johnson, Here's One Thing Washington Agreed On This Week: Sentencing Reform (NPR, Oct 3, 2015)

Editorial Staff, At America’s Largest Women’s Prison, Inmates Forced To Have Sex For Basic Necessities (African Globe, Dec 16, 2015)

Barack Obama, Why We Must Rethink Solitary Confinement (Washington Post, Jan 25, 2016)

Jeff Guo, America Has Locked Up So Many Black People It Has Warped Our Sense of Reality (Washington Post, Feb 26, 2016)

Star Wipe, Culture Of Prison Violence Delights Civilized, Justice-Seeking Populace (Star Wipe, Mar 16, 2016) Jared Fogle abused in prison, and people's tweets

Michelle Alexander, What Can America Learn from Systems of Incarceration Around the World? (Washington Post, Mar 18, 2016)

Alice Speri, Prisoners in Multiple States Call for Strikes to Protest Forced Labor (The Intercept, Apr 4, 2016)

German Lopez, Prison is Horrifying. For Transgender People, It's Hell (Vox, Apr 11, 2016)

Michelle Alexander, Mississippi Jails Are Losing Inmates, and Officials Are 'Devastated' By the Loss of Revenue (Huffington Post, Apr 14, 2016)

Shaundra Selvaggi, Alabama Inmates Organize Multi-Prison Strike in Protest of Prison Labor: We Won’t Contribute to Our Own Oppression (Atlanta Blackstar, May 9, 2016)

Robert Verbruggen, Are Conservatives Reforming Criminal Justice? (The American Conservative, Jun 1, 2016) helpful update on conservative states

David Dayen, The True Cost: Why the Prison Industry is About So Much More Than Prisons (Talking Points Memo, Jun 23, 2016)

Josie Duffy Rice, Detroit's Head Prosecutor Doesn't Believe These Black Kids Can Change (Daily Kos, Jul 29, 2016)

BBC News, US To End Federal Use of Private Prisons (BBC News, Aug 18, 2016)

German Lopez, Mass Incarceration in America Explained in 22 Maps and Charts (Vox, Oct 11, 2016)

Lara Bazelon, Pennsylvania's Shame (Slate, Oct 12, 2016) ill-trained police, underpaid defense attorneys, wrongful convictions

Mark Joseph Stern, The Supreme Court Juror Bias (Slate, Oct 12, 2016)

Michael Jonas, Mapping Incarceration in Boston (Commonwealth Magazine, Nov 10, 2016)

Rebecca McCray, Meet the Six Big Banks Keeping Private Prisons in Business (Huffington Post, Nov 17, 2016)

Dan Berger, Rattling the Cages (Jacobin Magazine, Nov 18, 2016)

James Surowiecki, Trump Sets Private Prisons Free (The New Yorker, Dec 5, 2016)

Debbie Elliott, Alabama's Prison System Goes On Trial (NPR, Dec 5, 2015)

Leila Morsy and Richard Rothstein, Mass Incarceration and Children’s Outcomes: Criminal Justice Policy is Education Policy (Economic Policy Institute, Dec 15, 2016)

Matt Ford, A Blueprint to End Mass Incarceration (The Atlantic, Dec 16, 2016)

Spencer Woodman, California Blames Incarcerated Workers for Unsafe Conditions and Amputations (The Intercept, Dec 28 2016)

Ashley Nellis and Marc Mauer, What We Can Learn from the Amazing Drop in Juvenile Incarceration (The Marshall Project, Jan 24, 2017)

The Young Turks, Priest Wants His Killer Spared (The Young Turks, Jan 31, 2017) interesting case of sentencing, and what victim's wishes mean

Kirsten West Savall, White La. Judge Banned From Local Restaurant After Reportedly Calling Black Patron ‘Fat N--ger’ (The Root, Feb 8, 2017)

Bill Keller, Is Prison the Answer to Violence? (Marshall Project, Feb 16, 2017)

Peter N. Salib, Why Prison?: An Economic Critique (Berkeley Journal of Criminal Law, Mar 6, 2017)

John M. Eason, Big House on the Prairie: Rise of the Rural Ghetto and Prison Proliferation (Amazon book, Mar 2017) rural southern towns have needed jobs, and prisons provide them. See also John M. Eason, Prison Building Will Continue Booming in Rural America (Salon, Mar 15, 2017)

Joseph Shapiro, How One Inmate Changed The Prison System From the Inside (NPR, Apr 14, 2017)

Tom Vanden Brook, Black Troops As Much As Twice As Likely to Be Punished By Commanders, Courts (USA Today, Jun 7, 2017)

Editorial Board, Pulling Back on the Barbaric Use of Solitary Confinement (NY Times, Aug 5, 2017)

Christopher Ingraham, Black Men Sentenced to More Time for Committing the Exact Same Crime as a White Person, Study Finds (Washington Post, Nov 16, 2017)

Deepa Bharath, Think Race Isn't a Problem in California? Think Otherwise (San Jose Mercury News, Dec 3, 2017) income, incarceration rates, education, health outcomes

German Lopez, We Don't Need Mass Incarceration to Keep People Safe. This Chart Proves It. (Vox, Jan 16, 2018)

John Grisham, Eight Reasons for America's Shameful Number of Wrongful Convictions (Los Angeles Times, Mar 11, 2018)

German Lopez, Christina Animashaun, and Javier Zarracina, How America Has — and Hasn’t — Changed Since Martin Luther King Jr.’s Death, in 11 charts (Vox, Apr 4, 2018) From economic well-being to criminal justice issues, racial inequality is still very real in America. 

Glenn Greenwald, Citing U.S. Prison Conditions, British Appeals Court Refuses to Extradite Accused Hacker Lauri Love to the U.S. (The Intercept, Feb 6, 2018)

Jordyn Phelps, Inside Jared Kushner's Personal Crusade to Reform America's Prisons (ABC News, Apr 8, 2018) and German Lopez, Congress's Prison Reform Bill, Explained (Vox, May 22, 2018)

Associated Press, Expelled Wisconsin Student Sentenced to 3 Years for Raping 3 Women (WGN9 Chicago, Jun 22, 2018) compared to other lengthy sentences especially for black and brown offenders

Pat Loeb, Philadelphia Seeks to Cut its Prison Population in Half (KYW1060, Jul 4, 2018) reforms which have brought down the population by 37% already

Michiko Kakutani, I Know What Incarceration Does to Families. It Happened to Mine. (NY Times, Jul 13, 2018)

The Young Turks, Judge Rules You Can't Lock People Up For Being Broke (The Young Turks, Aug 10, 2018) report on debtors' prison practices, public fines and fees stacked against poor people, and loopholes where those fines are used to fund the benefits and staff salaries of the judge

John Legend, It's Time for Louisiana to Strip White Supremacy from Their Constitution (Washington Post, Aug 13, 2018) a clause requiring a non-unanimous jury, designed to make minorities on the jury irrelevant

Amy Goodman, From Attica to South Carolina: Heather Ann Thompson on the Roots of the Nationwide Prison Strike (Democracy Now, Aug 21, 2018) a clause requiring a non-unanimous jury, designed to make minorities on the jury irrelevant

Jack Norton and Jacob Kang-Brown, Federal Farm Aid for the Big House (Vera Institute for Justice, Oct 22, 2018) and review by Alan Pyke, Rural Jails, Brought to You by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (Think Progress, Oct 23, 2018) and more information by Ray Downs, USDA Loan, ICE Detainees Help Keep Rural Florida Jail in Business (UPI, Oct 31, 2018) “One recipient of the low-interest loans is Baker County, Fla., a rural area of about 27,000 people in northern Florida. The USDA is set to approve a $35 million loan to the Baker County Development Corp., a nonprofit corporation created by the county to run the jail. The loan will help the county's nonprofit entity pay back bondholders who invested in the original $45 million cost to build the facility in 2008.”

Justin George, President Trump Says He Wants to Reform Prisons. His Attorney General Has Other Ideas. (Politico, Oct 25, 2018) "Jeff Sessions is overseeing a drastic cutback in the number of prisoners sent to halfway houses and home confinement."

Michelle Alexander, The Newest Jim Crow (NY Times, Nov 8, 2018) cautions about ankle bracelets

Scott Maxwell, For the 28th time, Florida Sentenced a Man to Death ... Only to Realize it Made a Mistake (Orlando Sentinel, Nov 9, 2018) 

Ronald Wright, Yes, Jury Selection Is as Racist as You Think. Now We Have Proof. (NY Times, Dec 4, 2018) "A new study from North Carolina confirms some long-held folk wisdom about race and juries. The good news is there are two doable solutions."

Jeremy Diamond and Alex Rogers, The Bill That Wouldn't Die: The Unlikely Story Behind the Criminal Justice Overhaul (CNN, Dec 18, 2018) remarkable story of the political maneuverings; a hopeful sign that alliances can be built across the political aisle on this issue

Roger Lancaster, The Carceral Problem is Getting Worse (The Intercept, Dec 30, 2018) despite the passage of the First Step Act

Victoria Law, End Forced Labor in Immigrant Detention (NY Times, Jan 29, 2019) Congress is allowing private contractors to exploit detained immigrants

Jackie Kucinich, Kamala Harris’ A.G. Office Tried to Keep Inmates Locked Up for Cheap Labor (The Daily Beast, Feb 11, 2019) "Lawyers for California also argued that allowing certain inmates to be paroled early would deplete a program that allowed prisons to fight wildfires"

David J. Burge, A Juror Who Questioned if Black Men Have Souls Sentenced One to Death. SCOTUS Must Step In (Newsweek, Feb 22, 2019)

Franklin Foer, The ‘Otherwise Blameless Life’ of Paul Manafort (The Atlantic, Mar 7, 2019) the backdrop of his many criminal acts, against which Manafort's 47 month sentence serves as a stunning example of white privilege

Katie Benner and Shaila Dewan, Alabama’s Gruesome Prisons: Report Finds Rape and Murder at All Hours (NY Times, Apr 3, 2019) and The Editorial Board, Alabama’s Cruel and Unusual Prisons (NY Times, Apr 6, 2019) and The New York Times, ‘No One Feels Safe Here’: Life in Alabama’s Prisons (NY Times, Apr 29, 2019)

Nina Totenberg, Supreme Court Strikes Down Conviction Of Mississippi Man On Death Row For 22 Years (NPR, Jun 21, 2019) significant because it establishes implicit racial bias as a legal problem, challenging McClesky v. Kemp. Examples of racial bias in jury selection are significant.

John Oliver, Prison Labor (Last Week Tonight, Aug 4, 2019)


Christian restorative justice and criminal justice: Topics

Christian restorative justice critique of the right: domestic policy topics

Christian restorative justice critique of the right: philosophical influences