At Slate, Seema Saifee, Research Fellow at the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice, recently published “One of the Best Ideas for Ending Mass Incarceration Was Thought Up in a Prison.”
In the piece, Saifee explores how incarcerated individuals have contributed to the conversation on reducing incarceration and crime.
Saifee, former staff attorney at the Innocence Project, researches and writes in the fields of criminal law and constitutional criminal procedure. Her current research focuses on the role of oppression and social isolation in the production of knowledge, and the ways in which people in prison generate legal and social change in a carceral state.
The United States locks up more people than almost every other nation. To dethrone us from that perch, scholars have crunched the numbers: Targeting only low-level, drug, and “non-violent” offenses will not meaningfully cut prison populations. Reckoning with mass incarceration demands reducing reliance on prisons for conduct that our criminal laws deem violent. To produce such a significant dent in our prisons, political leaders and scholars turn to prosecutors, academics, policy wonks, and sometimes community groups for strategies. Underneath this hierarchy hides an unquestioned intuition: Those who benefit from freedom hold a monopoly on how to shrink prisons. So self-evident is this premise that it conceals a counterintuitive phenomenon: Promising strategies to reduce prison populations for violent crime have been incubated inside prison walls.
In a recent paper, I reveal how people behind bars have created concepts and strategies that have opened up new possibilities to reduce incarceration and reduce crime. In fact, lawyers, researchers, policymakers, and abolitionists have harnessed these “inside moves” to do just that… .