CIVIC CONVERSATIONS: A Conversation about Incarceration

CURRENTLY ONLINE ONLY: We hope to pick up with physical discussion groups when the Library re-opens. In the meantime, please feel free to utilize our resources for your family or virtual group discussions!

This event features a screening from the Netflix documentary 13th with a conversation around mass incarceration and the racial and ethnic disparities in the U.S. prison system.

Potential Discussion Questions:

  • Do you feel the justice system and the prisons in the US mirror the general at-large population? Do you feel that imprisonment metrics should reflect population percentages?
  • Does declaring a “War on…” societal ills such as drug usage, create a surge in incarceration numbers? Is that a desirable result?
  • With prison construction as an industry and prisons as large employers, do the economic forces exaggerate our incarceration levels? Are there other ways for prison and rehabilitation to work?
  • Do you think a private prison industry can be reformed?
  • Do you think high levels of incarceration add to or detract from the human potential of a society?
  • What policies might reduce incarceration without reducing public safety?
  • How often should we revisit whether our previously chosen punishments suitably fit the crime?
  • It has been said by a prison warden “We want them, for lack of a better term, to feel like a herd of cattle.” What are the consequences of this mindset?


From the Library’s UncommonWealth Blog:

Web Pages:

A Guide to the Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, 1796 – 1991


  • A book list curated by the Marshall Project on criminal justice
  • This reading list includes books to aid in understanding how and why America developed its prison industrial complex and what it will take to end mass incarceration.
  • A curated selection of multicultural and social justice books for children, YA, and educators.
  • Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Y. Davis
  • American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey Into the Business of Punishment by Shane Bauer
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
  • Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy by Heather Ann Thompson
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  • From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America by Elizabeth Hinton
  • My Brother Moochie: Regaining Dignity in the Face of Crime, Poverty, and Racism in the American South by Issac Bailey
  • Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman Jr.

Articles and Reports:

Web Pages:

TED talks:

Truths About the US Prison System playlist of engaging talks explore the systemic issues of the US criminal justice system and how they plague everyday people and society as a whole.

Other Films & Documentaries:

Cooler Bandits film Facebook page with link to view free on YouTube