Mass Incarceration Conversation Series (MICS)


The United States, often considered "the land of the free," currently holds the dubious distinction of being the world’s largest prison warden (Walmsley, 2016).

While comprising a mere 5% of the world’s population, the United States nonetheless has managed to account for 25% of the world’s prisoners. No country, much less one that purports a democracy, has managed to incarcerate so many of its inhabitants. To put this in perspective, the incarceration rate for the rest of the world per 100,000 people currently stands at 155; while for the same rate, the United States stands at 716.

Further, 1 in every 100 Americans is currently behind bars. The number of people incarcerated has risen by over 500% in the last 40 years (The Sentencing Project, 2017). Women are the fastest growing prison population. Millions of children report having a parent incarcerated, and in spite of copious amounts of neuroscience data on brain development, we continue to arrest, charge, and sentence young children as adults (Rios, 2006).

Despite the significant rates of incarceration, most people will eventually be released. However, the challenges post-release are often insurmountable; longitudinal research indicates that most people will return to prison within three years (Langan & Levin, 2002).

The enmeshed consequences of incarceration and prisons are omnipresent throughout the social work profession (K. James & Smyth, 2014). Social justice is often described as the "organizing value," or catalyst, that drives the profession of social work. The National Association of Social Workers' (NASW; 2008) Code of Ethics, as well as the curriculum policy statement of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), mandate that social workers and schools of social work education pay explicit attention to social and economic justice for all people. Yet, it is startling that critical discourse in schools of social work pertaining to mass incarceration is marginal, or in some cases completely absent (Cnaan, Draine, Frazier, & Sinha, 2008; K. A. James, 2013).


The Mass Incarceration Conversation Series (MICS) is a project at NYU Silver School of Social Work that aims to foster dialogue amongst people impacted by mass incarceration, social workers, clinical practitioners, policy makers, academics, community members, and people working at the various intersections of this critical phenomenon.

The goal of MICS is to create a holistic understanding of mass incarceration that can ultimately inform practice and policy on clinical, micro and macro levels as it pertains to mass incarceration.


Upcoming Events

Columbia, NYU Silver, and Hunter Social Work students who work on criminal justice issues convening to consider what prison abolition would look like, both in practice and in theory.

Meetings are held at Columbia School of Social Work, 1255 Amsterdam Ave., from 10:00-11:30am on the following days:

  • November 9
  • December 7
  • January 25
  • February 22
  • March 29
  • April 19

Apply to the Justice Practice Group »
Deadline: November 20

Past Events

[Click on the 'View Details' link on each landing page for detailed information about these events.]

2018-2019 Mass Incarceration Conversation Series

June 18
"I am Not Your Negro" Panel Discussion

2017-2018 Mass Incarceration Conversation Series


Clinical Assistant Professor Kirk A. James speaks at NYU Washington, DC’s Weissberg Forum for Discourse in the Public Square on Criminal Justice Reform, April 24, 2017.