Recommended resources


  • Rethinking Incarceration, Dominique Dubois Gilliard
  • The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander
  • Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson


  • 13th: From Slave to Criminal With One Amendment
  • The House I Live In


  • CPI Director Todd Cioffi at the Calvin University January Series


    Other resources

    Related organizations

    Prison education programs


    • Incarceration

      Incarceration is a word that describes the state of being confined or imprisoned in a jail or prison. Incarceration is the primary form of punishment and rehabilitation in the United States for individuals who are convicted of a felony. Other forms of punishment and rehabilitation include fines, community service, probation, mandatory treatment, rehabilitation programs, mental health treatment and conditional discharge. The United States is often defined as a country dealing with the condition of ‘mass incarceration,’ which is brought on by historically extreme rates of imprisonment due to both violent and non-violent crimes. In March of 2018 the United States had 2.3 million incarcerated persons.

    • Jail and Prison, what's the difference?

      Jails are usually run by local law enforcement and/or local government agencies and are designed to hold inmates awaiting trial or serving a short sentence. Short is defined, not by length of stay per se, but instead by conviction. Most often those who are sentenced and, who still reside in jail, are those who were sentenced to a misdemeanor offence.

      Prisons are typically operated by a state government or the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). These secure locations are typically used to hold individuals convicted of serious crimes, or those sentenced with a felony. All prisons operate at different security levels.

    • Lifers

      This is an informal way to refer to a person who is serving a life sentence in prison. More than half of the students in the Calvin Prison Initiaitve are serving life sentences in the Michigan prison system.

    • Parole

      A prisoner who is released ‘on parole’ is someone who is temporarily released (for a special purpose) or permanently released before the completion of a sentence, on the promise of good behavior. The conditions of parole usually include certain prohibitions on where an individuals can go and also requires an individual to regularly check in with a parole officer.

    • Recidivism

      Recidivism, as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is ‘a tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior, especially a criminal behavior.’ Due to social pressures, re-entry issues, and poor choices, many prisoners out on parole are often likely to recidivate, causing them to go back into prison to serve another sentence. As many as 76% of prisoners in the United States are rearrested within five years of getting initially released from prison. This statistic is dramatically high and shows that our re-entry programs, in addition to our correctional activities within prisons, are struggling to keep up with capacity and affect dramatic change in the lives of prisoners and parolees.

    • Re-entry

      Re-entry is the process by which an inmate comes into society from a facility in a state’s Department of Corrections. This process is difficult for many parolees as integrating back into a society from which they have been secluded for many years is often a difficult process. Parolees entering back into society often run into difficulties with; getting a job, finding housing, or registering for government subsidies due to their misdemeanor or felony conviction.

    • Restorative justice

      Restorative justice is an approach to seeking justice that hopes to cultivate reconciliation between offender and victim. This approach welcomes an organized meeting between the two parties in order for them to communicate with one another about the hurt caused by an incident.

      If you want to learn more about restorative justice, in fall 2018 we hosted a conference at Calvin College which was organized by CPI students who are members of the Restorative Justice Club. The conference hosted six prominent speakers from a variety of fields of study on the topic of Restorative Justice. Speakers included; Dr. Nicholas Wolterstorff, Rev. Dominique Gilliard, Father David Kelly, State Rep. David LaGrand, Jerline Riley, and Dr. Charlotte Vanoyen-Witvliet. Below is the program from the conference, as well as four Youtube links of the conference speakers.

    • Retributive Justice

      Retributive justice is a theory of justice that focuses on punishment that is proportionate to the hurt done in the crime. When an offender breaks the law, retributive justice requires that they forfeit something in return.