Document Type



The American public is perhaps more sensitized to the flaws in our criminal justice system than at any time in our history. News accounts of wrongful convictions, racial profiling, violent police-citizen encounters, and botched executions have called into question the policies of a nation that imprisons more people than any other developed nation – upwards of 1.5 million people housed in state or federal prisons according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. To some extent, this period of questioning and reflection has produced gains; we have witnessed a modest shift away from mandatory minimum sentencing and toward the decriminalization of some narcotics. Parole boards have shown a rising awareness that inmates’ claims of innocence should not be held against them in their release decisions. Even more, some states – most notably, Michigan – have formulated innovative re-entry programs to assist prisoners in making the perilous transition from their cell blocks to residential and commercial blocks in neighborhoods throughout the country. These events have prompted some observers to envision an end to mass incarceration in the United States. Yet this vision is a mirage. Despite all of the talk about criminal justice reform and “decarceration,” we still live in a country where large swaths of people, especially young men of color, languish behind bars or under the restrictions of probation, parole, or some other form of community supervision. This is likely to remain the case absent dramatic changes to policing practices, wealth inequalities, and the lobbying tactics of corrections officials and affiliated industries. The danger with the decarceration rhetoric is that it deflects attention from those who continue to suffer under horrid conditions of confinement. Indeed, this Symposium explores the contemporary prison experience against this complicated backdrop and asks a fundamental question: what are the gravest problems that inmates face during an era in which many people might naively think that the situation has improved?

Date of Authorship for this Version



prisoners' rights, incarceration, decarceration

Original Citation

Daniel S. Medwood, Bar None? Rights in the Modern Age, 7 Ne. U. L.J. 1 (2015).