Prison Research Should Recognize Legacy of Slavery: Paper

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Montana Territorial Prison, abandoned 1979. Photo by Lamar White via Flickr

Arguing that “prison research holds a responsibility to advance racial equity,” a new briefing paper from the Urban Institute proposes that Black people who have been incarcerated should be partners and co-owners of all research and policy procedures and be fairly and equally compensated for their time.

The legacy of slavery has shaped the experience of incarceration, with rates of imprisonment among Black people ranging from six to eight times greater than the rates among white people over the last 40 years, according to the paper, “Conducting Prison Research With a Racial-Equity Frame.”

Black people who have been incarcerated should inform survey designs “so that research questions and language are relevant and appropriate,” analyze data, and identify outlets for disseminating the findings that promote equitable change, the paper said.

This participatory research is intended to enrich the field’s understanding of prison culture and help researchers identify possible interventions to mitigate the harm of being incarcerated.

This brief is part of a larger research agenda for the Prison Research and Innovation Initiative, a five year effort to leverage research and evidence to shine a “much needed light” on prison conditions and pilot new strategies.

The brief, funded by Arnold Ventures, was written by Cassandra Ramdath, a senior research associate in the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center.

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