America’s prison catastrophe: Can we undo it?

The US prison system continues to fail, so why does it still exist?

  • The United States is the world's largest prison warden. As of June 2020, America had the highest prisoner rate, with 655 prisoners per 100,000 of the national population. But according to experts, doing something the most doesn't mean doing it the best.
  • The system is a failure both economically and in terms of the way inmates are treated, with many equating it to legal slavery. American prisons en masse are expensive, brutal, and ineffective, so why aren't we trying better alternatives? And what exactly are these overstuffed facilities accomplishing?
  • Damien Echols and Shaka Senghor share first-hand accounts of life both in and after prison, while political science professor Marie Gottschalk, activist Liza Jessie Peterson, historian Robert Perkinson, and others speak to the ways that America's treatment of its citizens could and should improve. "The prison industrial complex is a human rights crisis," says Peterson. "Something needs to be done."
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A normal tourist map, "but everything is negative"

'Critical Tourist Map of Oslo' offers uniquely dark perspective on Norway's capital.

Credit: Markus Moestue
  • Your standard tourist map is irrepressibly positive about its location—but not this one.
  • Norwegian activist/artist Markus Moestue reveals the dark and shameful sides of Oslo.
  • He hopes his 'Critical Tourist Map' will inspire others to reveal the dark side of their cities.
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Study: Private prisons result in more inmates, longer sentences

The Labour Economics study suggests two potential reasons for the increase: corruption and increased capacity.

  • After adopting strict sentencing laws in the '80s and '90s, many states have turned to for-profit prisons to handle growing prison populations.
  • A new study in Labour Economics found that privately-run prisons correlate with a rise in incarceration rates and sentence lengths.
  • While evidence is mixed, private prisons do not appear to improve recidivism or cost less than state-run facilities.
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    Why are some psychopaths 'successful'? It may depend on one personality trait

    What makes some psychopaths better able to control their antisocial tendencies?

    Lions Gate Films/Columbia Pictures
    • Researchers have long struggled to explain the stark differences in life outcomes of psychopaths.
    • A new study suggests that the personality trait conscientiousness helps psychopaths develop impulse-control skills over time.
    • However, this process seems to apply only to individuals who score high in certain psychopathic traits.
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    OSCAR RIVERA/AFP via Getty Images

    The United States incarcerates a larger proportion of its citizens than any other developed country in the world, with around 1.5 million people serving time in prison.

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