We imagine a future in which racial and economic equality gives everyone a fair shot and our society has ended mass incarceration
The national discourse on criminal justice has changed in the last decade; mass incarceration is now a widely recognized concept, with voices across political and geographic divides calling for its end. This is a promising development, and while it has led to recent efforts to reduce the number of people behind bars – New York’s prisons have 20% fewer people in them than in 2007 – more work needs to be done. Despite recent declines, New York’s prison population today is still 400% larger than in 1973, before the current era of mass incarceration. We believe we can and must go further.
As we reduce the number of people in jails and prisons, we get closer and closer to fundamental questions about the purpose of prison. CANY has helped to reduce the use of extended isolation for seriously mentally ill individuals, but the question remains: why are these individuals spending years in prison, where their needs are so inadequately addressed? CANY has advocated for increased access to quality education and job training in prison, but then we stop to ask: why are we wasting so much human potential by keeping people in prison for years, even decades?
Nowhere are these questions posed more starkly than when we look at the conditions inside prisons, which is why we believe that what happens inside prisons is the final frontier of criminal justice reform. It is where the failures of the system — and the hardest questions we need to ask — are laid bare.
As one of only two organizations in the country with this legally protected access to prisons and the people inside them, we want to create a platform for directly impacted individuals to directly share their experiences; document system trends; and allow for the kind of reform that only true and real-time transparency and accountability can.
We amplify the voices of those most affected by what happens inside prisons, both incarcerated people and their loved ones as wells as prison staff and their loved ones. We believe that what happens inside prisons affects everyone — and we wish to dispel, to the extent possible, unproductive divisions between correctional officers and incarcerated people, between people convicted of crimes and survivors of crime.