June 18, 2013

The Era of Mass Incarceration

Nkechi Taifa

Senior Policy Analyst, Open Society Foundations and Open Society Policy Center
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Judge Mark W. Bennett

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa
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James E. Williams, Jr.

Public Defender, Orange and Chatham Counties, North Carolina
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Mark Osler

Professor of Law, University of St. Thomas School of Law
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Kemba Smith Pradia

Author, Poster Child: The Kemba Smith Story; Founder, Kemba Smith Foundation
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Matt Pillischer

Producer and Director, Broken On All Sides
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The United States incarcerates more than 2 million people, imprisoning more people than any other country in the world. This unprecedented prison population can be attributed to federal and state policies implemented over the past few decades, including mandatory minimums, three strikes, and life without parole. Our culture of incarceration is reflected in a variety of contexts, from the War on Drugs to the School to Prison Pipeline, where criminalization has prevailed over other approaches to social problems. Mass incarceration has had a disproportionate impact on people and communities of color, with African Americans and Latinos constituting approximately 60% of the prison population. What are the consequences of mass incarceration for our society? What policies and practices are driving these high levels of imprisonment? Are there constitutional tools at our disposal, like the pardon power and the Eighth Amendment, which can assist in ending the era of mass incarceration?