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Mass Incarceration is an American Tragedy


Mass Incarceration has become a huge popular topic these days.  From the inside-prison TV shows, to iconic books like The New Jim Crow, to the media coverage of political alliances and the bold initiatives of some elected leaders, and even candidates for president, mass incarceration is now far less of a taboo topic.

Politicians are talking sweeping changes and announcing improvement numbers. Some judges and some prosecutors are starting to show guarded signs of sensitivity. In most states there are scores of non-profit agencies that have been fighting this mass incarceration battle for years – long before it became easier to discuss and debate in the public square.

Meanwhile there is the grandmother who has worked the same rotation of minimum wage jobs for the last 33 years, whose 38-year-old son can only keep a job as long as his felony conviction record goes undiscovered. She runs from her sister’s phone calls now because she cannot afford to pitch in to keep her nephew off the street. But she stops everything to answer the phone when her daughter calls from prison. She’s been there for 12 years. She went in addicted to heroin, and with the acquired skills of a habitual thief. There is no money for her four children to travel 300 miles to visit her. They are sheltered as best as can be by the weary arms of grandmother.

If you travel on a public bus or train and engage casual conversations with people, every fifth or perhaps even every fourth person with whom you might share small talk can speak openly about someone in their family or personal circle of interest who is suffering through the collateral consequences of incarceration. For millions of them, change is still only a word.

Families have been changed forever. Their stories and their peculiar and dark journeys continue. Their journey through the dark halls and deep valleys of mass incarceration sees no mass changes anytime soon unless we start now:

Listening to families and connecting all the many dots for them. Reinventing our commitment to strengthen and sustain them. Because after all, if you talk to enough of them you’ll find that their story is the story of at least one third of all of us.


The NIA understands how to eliminate fragmentation – how to change the unintended culture of competition among service providers, and how to coordinate the best of poly-sector efforts. We understand how to facilitate the strategic integration of assets among agencies, organizations and other stakeholders to assess where we are and to measure how best to advance this family sustainability movement.

The National Incarceration Association

is a relationship-driven movement that addresses the impact of incarceration through the lens of families; a movement to connect what works – to what is still needed – to what we know we have the power to do.

We’re Connecting Communities for Justice Reform

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