Researching the Prison Industrial Complex

Fair, Molly. Words Break Down Walls (poster print), via JustSeeds Artists Cooperative. Reprinted with permission from the artist.

Researching the Prison Industrial Complex

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Personal Librarian

Vani Natarajan
Humanities and Global Studies Librarian
208C Lehman



"The term ‘prison industrial complex’ was introduced by activists and scholars to contest prevailing beliefs that increased levels of crime were the root cause of mounting prison populations. Instead, they argued, prison construction and the attendant drive to fill these new structures with human bodies have been driven by ideologies of racism and the pursuit of profit."

- Davis, Angela. Are Prisons Obsolete? New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003, page 84. 


"The prison industrial complex (PIC) is a term we use to describe the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems."

- Critical Resistance


See also:

The PIC Is… collects electronic zines, reports, and other educational materials on the prison industrial complex from the Chicago Prison Industrial Complex Teaching Collective. 

Prison Culture: How the PIC Structures Our World is a blog that attempts "to document how the current prison industrial complex operates and to underscore the ways that it structures American society." Features include a bibliography of essential readings on the prison industrial complex, as well as links to infographics on incarceration.


Archives and Memory

American Prison Writing Archive includes a small but growing browseable collection of digitized writings by people incarcerated in US prisons. Project established by Hamilton College Digital Humanities Initiative.

Guantanamo Lawyers Digital Archive collects narratives of lawyers who have represented detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center.

PEN Prison Writing Program features writings by prisoners along with resources on prison writing, including the PEN Handbook for Writers in Prison.

Prison and Reformatory Records at New York State Archives includes, among other sources: registers, cards, and case files from several prisons and reformatories in New York state.

Schomburg Center : Angela Davis Legal Defense Collection includes legal documents, official statements, correspondence, clippings, manuscripts, and other materials associated with campaigns in support of Angela Davis, dating largely from the years 1969 to 1972.


Prison Writing


American Center of P.E.N. Doing Time: Twenty-Five Years of Prison Writing. Ed. Bell Gale Chevigny. 1st ed. New York: Arcade, 1999. (CLIO)

Bukhari, Safiya. The War Before : The True Life Story of Becoming a Black Panther, Keeping the Faith in Prison & Fighting for Those Left Behind. New York City : Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2010. (CLIO)

Davis, Angela Y. If They Come in the Morning:Voices of Resistance. London: Orbach and Chambers Ltd [for] the Angela Davis Defence Committee, 1971. (CLIO)

Shakur, Assata. Assata : An Autobiography. Westport, CT: L. Hill, 1987. (CLIO)

Scheffler, Judith A., ed. Wall Tappings: An International Anthology of Women’s Prison Writings, 200 to the Present. 2nd ed. New York: Feminist Press at The City University of New York, 2002. (CLIO)

Schreiner, Barbara, ed. A Snake with Ice Water: Prison Writings by South African Women. Johannesburg, South Africa: COSAW, Congress of South African Writers, 1992. (CLIO)

Sheehan, Jacqueline. Women Writing in Prison: An Anthology. Florence, MA: Voices From Inside, 2005. (CLIO)

Women of Bedford Hills Correctional Facility (N.Y.). Breaking the Walls of Silence: AIDS and Women in a New York State Maximum-Security Prison. Woodstock, N.Y: Overlook Press, 1998. (CLIO)


Bound Struggles: Voices of Women in Prison (Chicago Books to Women in Prison)

For My Sisters and the Burden We Share (Kids-A-Part program)

Locked in Oppression (Promethea-Persaius Al-Assad)

Tenacious: Art and Writings from Women in Prison

Using media to connect people inside & out : responses from people in prison to the 2009 zine.

Women in Prison: How We Are (reprint of a 1978 article by Assata Shakur printed in Black Scholar).

Historical and Contemporary Analysis

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: New Press, 2010. (CLIO)

Davis, Angela Y. Are Prisons Obsolete? New York : Seven Stories Press, 2003. (CLIO)

Gilmore, Ruth Wilson. Golden Gulag : Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California. Berkeley : University of California Press, 2007. (CLIO)

Law, Vikki. Resistance behind Bars : The Struggles of Incarcerated Women. 2nd ed. Oakland, CA : PM, 2012. (CLIO)

Oparah, Julia Chinyere, ed. Global Lockdown: Race, Gender, and the Prison-Industrial Complex. New York: Routledge, 2005. (CLIO)

Parenti, Christian. Lockdown America : Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis. London: Verso, 1999. (CLIO)

Solinger, Rickie, ed. Interrupted Life: Experiences of Incarcerated Women in the United States. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2010. (CLIO)

Stanley, Eric A, and Nat Smith. Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex. Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2011. (CLIO)


Related Subject Headings

Explore sources in CLIO and other library catalogs with subject searches using these terms:

  • Alternatives to imprisonment
  • Imprisonment > Literary Collections
  • Incarceration
  • Political prisoners
  • Prison-industrial complex
  • Prisoners as authors
  • Prisoners’ writings
  • Prisons > Literary Collections
  • Women prisoners > Literary Collections



Boxed In: the true cost of extreme isolation in New York State (New York Civil Liberties Union)

Human Rights Watch reports by category: Juvenile Justice, Detention Without Trial, Guantanamo, and more

It's War in Here: A report on the treatment of transgender and intersex people in New York State men's prisons (Sylvia Rivera Law Project) covers background information on transgender and intersex prisoners, daily realities, and recommended next steps to reduce the imprisonment and criminalization of these populations.

Prison Policy Initiative Reports

Sentencing Project collects numerous reports and statistics on mass incarceration in the U.S., with information on sentencing, prison expansion, for-profit prisons, and more.


Prisoner Support Resources

National Directory of Prison Education Programs highlights programs within the United States. Programs can be browsed and explored via a clickable US map.

PARC Prisoner Support Directory (2014) features an extensive and detailed list of organizations working on prisoners' rights, prison literature and arts projects, health care, legal resources, parole and pre-release resources, and much more. The Prison Activist Resource Center regularly mails this resource packet to prisoners and their friends and family members.


Prison Abolitionism

Abolitionist Toolkit collects questions, strategies, practical tools, and analysis for organizers working towards prison abolition.

Black and Pink Syllabus and Resources on Prison Abolition collects readings intended as an "introduction to the creation and function of the US prison industrial complex." The syllabus was taught by Black and Pink founder Jason Lydon for a divinity school class, so some of the readings touch on themes of faith and theology. All links connect to full texts of readings.

No One is Disposable: Everyday Practices of Prison Abolition brings together four videos featuring activist scholars Reina Gossett and Dean Spade discussing prison abolition as a political framework. Videos are entitled, in order: Prison Abolition + Prefiguring the World You Want to Live In, Practicing Prison Abolition Everyday, What About the Dangerous People? and Gun Control + Producing Dangerousness. Resources and Context for a Conversation on Prison Abolition, a BCRW blog post, provides further background for the videos, including links to organizations active in the prison abolition movement.


Gender Violence in Prison

INCITE! Critical Resistance Statement on Gender Violence and the Prison Industrial Complex

Just Detention International publishes a range of materials on sexual violence in detention centers, including fact sheets, reports, and a Resource Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse Behind Bars.

National PREA Resource Center

Prison Rape Elimination Act Statistics (Bureau of Justice)


Immigration and Detention

Detention Watch Network publishes and shares numerous resources on the U.S. immigration detention and deportation system, including a Detention Map and a searchable and browseable research library

Global Detention Project publishes profiles, reports, and statistics on immigration-related detention around the world.

International Detention Coalition: Detention Database brings together research and resources produced around the world that are specific to immigration detention.