Skip to main content
  • What is the toll of mass incarceration on humanity?

What is the toll of mass incarceration on humanity?

In the United States, over two million people are in prison.  Many people in our prisons are incarcerated for non-violent crimes.  What is the impact of mass incarceration on prisoners, their families, and our communities?  Is mass incarceration in conflict with a humane and decent society?  Or, is it required to preserve peace and justice?

What is the purpose of incarceration?  Rehabilitation, deterrence, and retribution are three main justifications offered for punishment.  Are prisons doing a good job of rehabilitating criminals?  Does the threat of prison deter people from committing crimes?  Why are people committing crimes and what behaviors count as crimes punishable with jail time?  Does time in prison deter people from committing crimes after they are released?  Is retribution ever morally justified?  That is, do wrongdoers ever just deserve to suffer?  If so, must the punishment fit the crime?  Are our prisons a fitting punishment for most offenders?

Who is in prison?  Why are they there?  Are our current laws and sentencing practices rational?  What are the many financial and human costs of mass incarceration?  What does it cost tax payers?  Would tax dollars spent on locking people up be better spent on social services that would address the factors that lead people to criminal activities in the first place? What is the financial cost to human beings who are in jail, unable to work, and unable to find decent jobs after prison because of their criminal record? Many prisoners are kept in facilities that are hundreds of miles away from their families.  What does this distance do to their families?  What is the toll taken on people who work in prisons?  What does punishing do to the punisher?  What does mass incarceration really cost, is it worth it, and does this practice uphold the moral standards of a humane society?

You can contribute your thoughts and questions below, in our moderated blog, or go to THE QUESTION's Facebook page @wvuthequestion.

There are several public discussions of these issues going on in the next several weeks.   Here are a few exciting events that we know about:

November 1 @ 5pm: WVU College of Law panel discussion of the state of incarceration in Appalachia.

November 14th @ 5pm: Appalachian Prison Book Project, "Contact Across the Divide" live podcast in Colson Hall 130.

November 15 @ 6pm: Presentation by photographer Raymond Thompson and radio producer Sylvia Ryerson featuring their documentation of the impact of mass incarceration on families and communities in the Milano Reading Room of the WVU Downtown Library.