Kids | Youth | Adults | Calendar | Quotes | Heroes | Stories | The EMILY Fund | Scholarships
DO ONE THING and BetterWorld Kids Clubs are projects of The EMILY Fund (The Emily Silverstein Fund, Inc.)

Prison Reform QUOTES

(Click on * for 8.5 X 11 PDF to print)


I think there’s something to be optimistic about because I believe that many people throughout the country and world are starting to realize that we’ve made some deep, deep mistakes in terms of building prisons to the detriment and exclusion of building up our educational systems. Developing punitive programs for teens instead of focusing on programs that will really benefit and advantage our children.
-- Ellen Barry

We've entered a disturbing period that promotes a retributionist, punitive attitude toward people in our society who haven't 'made it,' who are underdogs, who don't have the financial means that other people have, and who may have disabilities like mental illness and addictions to deal with,"
-- Ellen Barry

We live in a country that is addicted to incarceration as a tool for social control. As it stands now justice systems are extremely expensive, do not rehabilitate but in fact make the people that experience them worse and have no evidence based correlatives to reducing crime. Yet with that track record they continue to thrive, prosper and are seen as an appropriate response to children in trouble with the law. Only an addict would see that as an okay result.
-- James Bell

“Society has used the juvenile courts to create a caste system where there are throw-away people.”
-- James Bell

“Our justice system is one of the few unaccountable systems in the country. It doesn’t make decisions based on best practices…or in the best interest of the young people and families involved. As a result, there is a 70 percent recidivism rate. The decision makers can administer this misery and not take any responsibility for the outcome.”
-- James Bell

If you want to address racial disparity in the juvenile justice system, everybody has to have a role in it. Everybody has some responsibility."
-- James Bell

There is a multi-headed, multi-tentacled monster out there devouring blacks who live in certain neighborhoods. Incarceration is just one aspect of this menace, but it is an overwhelmingly damaging aspect. Our job, in working to achieve fairness and equity, is to sound the alarm about the unjust criminal justice system and demand that our leaders and those in power act now to halt this destructive, unfair treatment of our brothers and sisters, especially of our children.
-- James Bell

Together we must challenge individuals, communities, cities, counties, regions, states, and the nation to be accountable for the outcomes of the justice systems at every level of government.
-- James Bell

"Torture is banned but in two-thirds of the world's countries it is still being committed in secret. Too many governments still allow wrongful imprisonment, murder or "disappearance" to be carried out by their officials with impunity."
-- Peter Benenson

"Open your newspaper - any day of the week - and you will find a report from somewhere in the world of someone being imprisoned, tortured or executed because his opinions or religion are unacceptable to his government."
-- Peter Benenson

"The candle burns not for us, but for all those whom we failed to rescue from prison, who were shot on the way to prison, who were tortured, who were kidnapped, who "disappeared". That's what the candle is for."
-- Peter Benenson

"Once the concentration camps and the hell-holes of the world were in darkness. Now they are lit by the light of the Amnesty candle; the candle in barbed wire. When I first lit the Amnesty candle, I had in mind the old Chinese proverb: 'Better light a candle than curse the darkness.'"
-- Peter Benenson

"The line that connects the bombing of civilian populations to the mountain removed by strip mining ... to the tortured prisoner seems to run pretty straight. We're living, it seems, in the culmination of a long warfare -- warfare against human beings, other creatures and the Earth itself."
~ Wendell Berry

"The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed."
-- Stephen Biko


* How do we redefine education so that 30-50 percent of inner-city children do not drop out of school, thus ensuring that millions will end up in prison?
-- Grace Lee Boggs

I believe that we are at the point now, in the United States, where a movement is beginning to emerge. I think that the calamity, the quagmire of the Iraq war, the outsourcing of jobs, the drop-out of young people from the education system, the monstrous growth of the prison-industrial complex, the planetary emergency, which we are engulfed at the present moment, is demanding that instead of just complaining about these things, instead of just protesting about these things, we begin to look for, and hope for, another way of living. And I think that-- that's where the movement-- I-- I see a movement beginning to emerge, 'cause I see hope beginning to trump despair.
-- Grace Lee Boggs

They are torturing people. They are torturing people on Guantanamo Bay. They are engaging in acts which amount to torture in the medieval sense of the phrase. They are engaging in good old-fashioned torture, as people would have understood it in the Dark Ages.
-- Richard Bourke

“I am writing these short but deeply felt words from the bottom of my heart, which in spite of these mouldy walls and these rusty chains with which they try to imprison me, beats faster than ever in the cause of liberty.
-- Luz Perly Córdoba Mosquera


"All human beings, whatever their cultural or historical background, suffer when they are intimidated, imprisoned or tortured . . . We must, therefore, insist on a global consensus, not only on the need to respect human rights worldwide, but also on the definition of these rights . . . for it is the inherent nature of all human beings to yearn for freedom, equality and dignity, and they have an equal right to achieve that."
-- 14th Dalai Lama


Jails and prisons are designed to break human beings, to convert the population into specimens in a zoo - obedient to our keepers, but dangerous to each other.
-- Angela Davis


"Imprisonment has become the response of first resort to far too many of our social problems."
-- Angela Davis


* Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living things, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on the earth. I said then and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.
-- Eugene V. Debs

“While we diminish the stimulant of fear, we must increase to prisoners the incitements of hope, in proportion as we extinguish the terrors of the law, we should awaken and strengthen the control of the conscience.”
-- Dorothea Dix

The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.
-- Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Never work just for money. Money alone won't save your soul or build a decent family life or help you sleep at night. We're the richest nation on Earth, with the highest number of imprisoned people in the world. Our drug addictions and child poverty are among the highest in the industrialized world. So don't ever confuse wealth or fame with character.
-- Marian Wright Edelman

History has a long-range perspective. It ultimately passes stern judgment on tyrants and vindicates those who fought, suffered, were imprisoned, and died for human freedom, against political oppression and economic slavery.
-- Elizabeth Gurley Flynn

You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind.
-- Mohandas Gandhi

We must not allow this generation to produce record numbers for the juvenile justice, runaway and homeless youth, or foster care systems.
-- Ruben Hinojosa

* “Sexual abuse and rape in our prisons are the epitome of the dehumanizing nature of our entire correctional system. Prison rape is a human rights issue; it's a public health issue; and it's a public safety issue.”
-- Barbara Lee
If you don't want to be beaten, imprisoned, mutilated, killed or tortured then you shouldn't condone such behavior towards anyone, be they human or not.
-- Moby
When shall it be said in any country of the world, my poor are happy; neither ignorance or distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggers; the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive; the rational world is my friend, becausei am friend of its happiness; when these things can be said, then may that country boast of its constitution and government.
-- Thomas Paine
Torture has been privatized now, so you have obviously the whole scandal in America about the abuse of prisoners and the fact that, army people might be made to pay a price, but who are the privatized torturers accountable to?
-- Arundhati Roy
"I don’t belong to a church or political party or a group of any kind. I feel that Amnesty International is the most civilized organization in history. Its currency is the written word. Its weapon is the letter; that’s why I am a member. I believe in its non-violence; I believe in its effectiveness. Its dignity and its sense of commitment. Its focus on individuals and the concentration and tenacity with which they defend those imprisoned for their ideas has earned it the cautious respect of repressive governments throughout the world."
-- Sting
"On the collective level, we have unwittingly shifted from being a nation of liberators, defenders of freedom, into becoming a nation of arms dealers and mercenaries, fabricating our own weapons of mass destruction and arming tyrants with the tools to oppress their own people. Within our own society, we jail more prisoners than any other country in the world, 85 percent of them people of nonwhite races — red, black, brown, and yellow. We are one of the few nations that still indulge in the death penalty for increasing numbers of these prisoners. We must become mindful of these negative things, since we need not support these actions of our nation to be affected negatively by their evolutionary impact, unless we mentally, verbally, and ultimately physically, disassociate ourselves from them."
-- Robert Thurman

If we are to have the public conversations essential to taking on serious dilemmas from climate change to criminal justice reform, we need forums for those conversations. The media can facilitate the conversations or shut them down. They can open up or constrain our beliefs about what is possible, what is desirable, who is deserving, and which perspectives are legitimate.
-- Sarah van Gelder

* There is much to be done, there is much that can be done… one person of integrity can make a difference, a difference of life and death. As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our lives will be filled with anguish and shame. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.
-- Elie Wiesel

"Good care is taken that each state shall have its prisons . . . and other asylums; but not one building is erected nor one law enforced that would teach the people how not to contribute to these over-crowded receptacles of human misery . . . . All of our politicians are ready to deal with the effects, but not one of them is brave enough to penetrate the substratum of society and deal with the cause." distributed among the people. . .
-- Victoria Woodhull

"A reform in the system of criminal jurisprudence, by which the death penalty shall no longer be inflicted . . . and by which our so-called prisons shall be virtually transformed into vast reformatory workshops, from which the unfortunate may emerge to be useful members of society, instead of the alienated citizens they now are."
-- Victoria Woodhull

"Chinese and Tibetan dissidents are either locked up in prison, forced into hiding, or silenced by fear of police retaliation against their families. All the happiness about China's economic growth has made many Americans forget that police clubs and guns and the Laogai system keep the Communist Party in power. Moreover, it is still little recognized how American resources help to sustain that power through trade, investments, and the transfer of technology... It is only when the Laogai is abolished in China that real change will come about."
-- Harry Wu

“I am convinced that imprisonment is a way of pretending to solve the problem of crime. It does nothing for the victims of crime, but perpetuates the idea of retribution, thus maintaining the endless cycle of violence in our culture. It is a cruel and useless substitute for the elimination of those conditions--poverty, unemployment, homelessness, desperation, racism, greed--which are at the root of most punished crime. The crimes of the rich and powerful go mostly unpunished. It must surely be a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit that even a small number of those men and women in the hell of the prison system survive it and hold on to their humanity.”
-- Howard Zinn

Kids | Youth | Adults | Calendar | Quotes | Heroes | Stories | The EMILY Fund | Scholarships
DO ONE THING and BetterWorld Kids Clubs are projects of The EMILY Fund (The Emily Silverstein Fund, Inc.)
Hero portraits are included for illustration purposes only - no celebrity endorsement implied

The Emily Fund
Education, Mentorship, Inspiration, Leadership, Youth
- for a Better

PO Box 430
Roosevelt, NJ 08555-0430