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The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, both in absolute numbers and on a per capita basis. Reveal Digital’s American Prison Newspapers collection is designed to elevate incarcerated voices and offer new breadth and depth to our understanding of prisons and imprisonment. On Wednesday, March 23rd, 2022, our own formerly incarcerated engagement editor Morgan Godvin joined interdisciplinary prison scholar Ashley Rubin for a conversation about this history of mass incarceration. The event, hosted and moderated by our friends at Knowable Magazine, is archived available to watch here.

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We are actively seeking new content for the American Prison Newspapers project, please see our submissions guide. Here is a roundup of past stories we have published that can help explain various facets of the complex history of mass incarceration. We welcome reader feedback for coverage.

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Sing Sing prison, with warden T. M. Osborne and two other men, c. 1915

Were Early American Prisons Similar to Today’s?

A correctional officer’s history of 19th century prisons and modern-day parallels. From Sing Sing to suicide watch, torture treads a fine line.
Female prisoners at Parchman sewing, c. 1930 
By Mississippi Department of Archives and History [see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons

A History of Women’s Prisons

While women's prisons historically emphasized the virtues of traditional femininity, the conditions of these prisons were abominable.
The cover of Adelante from April 1, 1972

50 Years Later: The Evolution of Prison Policy

Buried within Adelante is evidence of a fleeting attempt at prison reform and oversight in Connecticut. Is history repeating itself?
Collage of American Prison Newspapers

Introducing American Prison Newspapers, 1800-2020: Voices from the Inside

This overlooked corner of the press provided news by and for people who were incarcerated. A newly available archive shows it worked hard to reach outside audiences too.
Imprisoned student

Bringing Education to Prisoners

Is there an alternative to the punitive treatment of criminals? We look at the history of correctional education reforms within the American prison system.
Convicts working at Reed Camp, South Carolina, 1934

How Mass Incarceration Has Shaped History

A historian argues that it's time to look at the consequences of locking up millions of people over several decades.
Cover illustration for "Female Convict" by Vincent E. Burns. Illustration by Robert Maguire, 1952

Lesbians in Prison: The Making of a Threat

A scandal at a Massachusetts women's prison marked a change in the construction of the "dangerous" female homosexual.
Nation of Islam prison reform

What the Prisoners’ Rights Movement Owes to the Black Muslims of the 1960s

Black Muslims have been an influential force in the prisoners' rights movement and criminal justice reform as early as the World War II era.
Voting stickers on a table

Would Formerly Incarcerated People Vote Democratic?

Conventional wisdom says that Republicans don't want to give ex-felons voting rights because they'll end up voting for Democrats. But is this true?
Private Prisons

The Problem With Privatizing Prisons

If private prisons make their profit from criminal society, its goes against business sense to reduce criminality.

Free Event

Morgan Godvin and Ashley Rubin

Behind Bars: The Invention of Mass Incarceration

Join us Wednesday, March 23, for a free online event. Editor Morgan Godvin in conversation with penal historian Ashley Rubin.

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