The United States incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than any other country and disproportionately incarcerates people of color. Intersections on Mass Incarceration harnesses the power of the imagination to envision a more just world without the prison at its center.

What would the world look like without mass incarceration?

Whether it is called mass incarceration, mass imprisonment, the prison boom, or the carceral state, the American prison population began to grow significantly after 1973 when bilateral legislation expanded the use of imprisonment as a response to crime: extending mandatory sentences, enforcing new drug legislation, and punishing lesser offenses more severely. Today, the U.S. holds close to 25% of the world’s prisoners, despite accounting for only 5% of the world’s population. Incarcerated youth and adults overwhelmingly come from the most disadvantaged segments of the population. For example, black and Hispanic males account for over 56% of incarcerated people. This relationship is not random; mass incarceration is rooted in legacies of slavery and racial inequality. And criminal responsibility is interwoven with social and economic disparities, the presence of disabilities and mental illness, and the lack of access to education and work experience in underserved communities. 

The cost of mass incarceration is profound: on those behind bars, on those on parole, on their families, and on communities. And it has a long afterlife: the ways in which formerly incarcerated people continue to be denied rights, such as voting, and opportunities, such as jobs, social welfare benefits, and housing, long after they leave prison. At the same time, the ways in which states and communities allocate resources has made many swaths of American society dependent on prisons. U.S. prison laborers produce many of the goods that we purchase; prisons dominate rural economies in many places; and prisons and jails are part of neighborhood policing efforts. This entrenched connection between the prison and social inequality is particularly acute in Florida, where those that are fighting to have their rights restored prefer to call themselves returning citizens, rather than ex-felons, to emphasize that mass incarceration directly impacts the ability of people to have a voice in society.

We can build a more just system. Understanding the far-reaching tentacles of the prison system is necessary to imagine what a world would look like without mass incarceration. It is not only a world without prisons. It is a world that radically rethinks an entire social structure, from judicial courts and policing, to community welfare and safety.

The work of abolition insists that we foreground the people who are behind the walls—that we listen to them, that we take their ideas seriously ... [A] big part of the abolitionist project ... is unleashing people’s imaginations while getting concrete—so that we have to imagine while we build, always both.

Mariame Kaba (Next System Project)

A Future Without Mass Incarceration

Regardless of what careers we occupy in our lives, it is very likely that we will encounter individuals who have been directly impacted by the prison system. It is also likely that our work may be involved in disrupting or contributing to the system of mass incarceration. In preparation for these realities, courses and activities in Intersections on Mass Incarceration prepare students to recognize the system of mass incarceration, and to understand it and its impacts through cultural, literary, and artistic responses. 

From literature and gender studies, to history and law, to art and information science, courses in this cluster examine the causes, consequences, familial impact, histories, and lived realities of mass incarceration. They call students to ask profound questions about how we imagine justice, civic participation, the process of reconciliation, and the duty of us as a society to repair wrongs.

Together, these courses and discussions present creative tools to envision a different future. Intersections on Mass Incarceration also engages students directly with people in the local Gainesville community who are already working on innovative reforms including participatory defense, restorative justice, police and sentencing reform, youth empowerment, and peacebuilding. The group’s activities include bringing speakers to campus, organizing a research symposium, curating an exhibition, and holding a forum featuring community groups working on related issues. Through engaging with these projects and conversations, students will learn to be mindful of the need to include diverse perspectives in addressing mass incarceration, from scholars and activists to prisoners themselves.

To stay up to date with Intersections on Mass Incarceration activities, subscribe to the UF-CARCERALSTUDIES-L Listserv HERE.

Lifetime Likelihood of Imprisonment of US Residents Born in 2001

Upcoming Courses

  • AFA3310 – Key Issues in African-American and Black Atlantic Thought (Summer and Fall 2021) (GenEd-H/D) (WR)
  • ANT3451 – Race and Racism (Fall 2021) (GenEd-S/D) (WR–only some sections)
  • IDH2935 – Imagining Social Justice: The Long Civil Rights Movement (Fall 2021) (GenEd-H/D) (WR)
  • LAH3931 – Race, Gender, Law in Latin America (Fall 2021)
  • POS4077 – African American Politics (Fall 2021)

Digital Humanities Projects

Incarceration + Covid: This document is intended to capture global news information pertaining to incarcerated populations in prisons, jails, and detention centers in the time of COVID-19, as the health crisis continues to evolve and unfold. It is a living document, and it will continue to grow as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves. Click here to access Incarceration + Covid.

Faculty and Doctoral Students

Jodi Schorb
Associate Professor, English and Affiliate Faculty, Center for Gender, Sexualities, and Women's Studies Research
Stephanie Birch
Librarian, African American Studies
Elizabeth Dale
Professor, History
Lauren Pearlman
Assistant Professor, History and African American Studies Program
Katheryn Russell-Brown
Chesterfield Smith Professor of Law, Levin College of Law, Director, Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations
Heather Vrana
Assistant Professor, History and Affiliate Faculty, Latin American Studies