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Five States Join Urban Institute’s Prison Research and Innovation Network

Departments of corrections will begin collecting data and transforming cultures with a goal of making prisons more humane, safe, and rehabilitative environments.

Arnold Ventures grantee the Urban Institute today announced a major step toward reforming our nation’s prison system with the news that five states will join the Prison Research and Innovation Network, with a goal of making prisons more humane, safe, and rehabilitative environments. 

Colorado, Delaware, Iowa, Missouri, Vermont will join the first phase of the Network and work to establish policies and practices to advance more transparency, accountability, and innovation within their departments of corrections. The Network is a core component of the Prison Research and Innovation Initiative, an ambitious five-year effort to foster prison-researcher partnerships, using data and evidence to guide innovations in prison design, operations, and culture. In May 2019 Arnold Ventures dedicated a $10 million grant to support the initiative.

“We’re in the middle of a public awakening about the need to reform prisons, due partly to the fact that so many people have been touched by the justice system — one in two people have a family member who’s been incarcerated,” said Amy Solomon, Vice President of Criminal Justice at Arnold Ventures. “The public, policymakers on the left and right, and many corrections leaders, now recognize we must downsize our prisons and refocus them on improving well-being and increasing prospects for successful reentry.”

The five states will test new policies and interventions and develop key metrics on the health, safety, and the conditions of their prison systems.

Each state will receive support through the following:

  • A grant award of $100,000 to support the hiring of a full-time Prison Research Innovation Manager to work onsite in a pilot facility
  • A grant award of up to $100,000 annually to support the research partner’s activities during Phases 1 and 2
  • Technical assistance (TA) and feedback from experts affiliated with the Urban Institute, Arnold Ventures, and the Network’s advisory board
  • Opportunities for peer learning

“We look forward to supporting these states in their efforts to employ research and data to improve prison culture, operations, and design and create more humane and rehabilitative correctional environments,” said Dr. Nancy La Vigne, Vice President of Justice Policy at the Urban Institute. “Their leadership and commitment to transparency and accountability will help spur lasting change for people who live and work in prisons.”

T.R.U.E. program
Criminal Justice

Transforming Prisons

More than 1.5 million Americans are incarcerated in U.S. prisons, yet in many ways, our country remains in the dark about life inside. This default punishment has led to overcrowded cells, budget shortfalls, and conditions that breed violence. As people across the nation demand a better system, there’s a push to come up with more humane approaches and seek out the voices of those who live and work in prisons to help shape what the future could look like.

READ THE SERIES

This work is part of Arnold Ventures’ broader prison reform strategy, which is dedicated to safely reducing the nation’s prison population, increasing data and research on prison systems, reorienting prison cultures and conditions to support human potential and dignity, and improving preparation for successful reentry.

“It is critical that we shine a light on the conditions that dehumanize those who are incarcerated — and work — behind prison walls,” said Jeremy Travis, Executive Vice President of Criminal Justice at Arnold Ventures. “Research shows that our prisons harm individuals, families, and entire communities. We have a moral, political, and fiscal responsibility to fundamentally change our country’s approach to incarceration.”

In addition to Urban’s projects, Arnold Ventures’ prison reform strategy also involves a series of grants and research publications, including a $7 million grant to the Vera Institute’s Reimagining Prison and Restoring Promise initiatives. This support allows the organization to open radically-reimagined housing units for young adults in three additional state corrections agencies and to bolster efforts to reshape the norms and narratives about prisons, those who work in them, and those who are incarcerated.