Advocacy Toolkit

For more than two decades, we've combined compelling writing, striking visuals, and deep dives into data and public records to expose the harms of mass incarceration in America. We've learned a lot in this time. In the pages below, we've shared some of the resources, tips, and best practices we've picked up along the way. Our hope is that these tools help advocates in their efforts to address mass incarceration in their area.

Skills-based trainings

  • Public records — Every state and the federal government has laws that give the public access to most government information. However, getting access to that information can be difficult. This guide will help you navigate the system to get the documents you need.
  • Writing guide — A key part of our strategy hinges on getting to people to read what we write. This guide will help you write about complex topics in a way that is informative and persuasive.
  • Designing effective visuals — A compelling visual can quickly make a point about a topic that might otherwise take hundreds of words to describe. We've pulled together a few tips that have helped us make powerful visuals that can motivate people to action.
  • Data sources — Getting access to quality data is one of the most difficult parts of our work. We've pulled together a list of some of the sources we use most in our research on policing, incarceration, probation, parole, and more.
  • Managing and organizing data — Data is at the heart of nearly everything we do. In this guide, we provide a few tips and tricks we've learned to work with datasets effectively, without getting overwhelmed.

Issue-specific trainings

  • Video visitation — A collection of resources for protecting in-person visitation from the for-profit video-calling industry. It includes information on the benefits of in-person visits, reports, history, and more.
  • Jail expansion
    • Understanding jail assessments — When counties discuss building or expanding their jails, they often commission “jail assessments” to analyze current operations and recommend new construction. These assessments are usually dense, but riddled with obvious flaws. This guide helps you understand these documents and push back on jail construction proposals.
    • Arguments against jail expansion — Research and resources to help advocates illustrate the harms of jails to local decision makers. It includes findings about jail overcrowding, counterarguments against jail expansionists, and points of intervention in jail fights.
    • Fighting Jail Expansion Webinar — Across the country, communities are fighting against efforts to expand the carceral system and build new jails. In this webinar we brought together activists who have pushed back against jail expansion to discuss strategies they employed to prevent new jails from being built and give an overview of the tools and support that Prison Policy Initiative can provide to support these efforts.
  • Lowering jail phone rates — In this guide we explain how to find out what your local jail charges for calls, identify ways it can reduce prices, and time your campaign for the greatest chance of success.
  • Contending with Carveouts: How and Why to resist Charge-Based Exclusions in Reforms — Too often, reforms are handicapped because they exclude large categories of people impacted by the criminal legal system — usually people convicted of violent, sex-related, or other serious charges. In this guide we provide resources that show the problems with the carveouts and arguments to avoid them.
  • Reviewing public housing authority policy exclusions for people with criminal histories — Local public housing authority policies often unnecessarily limit or completely deny public housing assistance to people with criminal histories. We put together a guide to help advocates identify ways public housing policies can be more inclusive.
  • Prison gerrymandering — A guide to help residents who want to end prison gerrymandering in their local community. It provides tips, worksheets, and tools to determine whether and to what extent prison gerrymandering is occurring in your area.

Tools & Data

  • Ten statistics about the scale and impact of mass incarceration in the U.S. — A curated list of some of the most useful statistics to help the public comprehend the magnitude of criminalization in the U.S.
  • Correctional Contracts Library — Through our work to expose and stop the abusive practices of private companies that profit off of incarcerated people and their loved ones, we've amassed a collection of hundreds of documents, including contracts, bids, evaluations, and more that show how for-profit companies work with jails and prisons to squeeze money out of people who can least afford it. We’ve made these documents public in one place to help advocates, journalists, researchers, and policymakers stop these exploitative practices.
  • Data Toolbox — All of our reports and many of our briefings compile previously unavailable or incompatible data. We've put these unique datasets here to empower advocates and researchers to build on our work
  • Departments of corrections policy manuals — To help researchers and advocates, we've pulled together links to the policy manuals for the policy manuals for state departments of corrections, as well as the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

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