There are 2.2 million people in America’s prisons and jails who are directly affected by the outcome of our elections—but until now, their political opinions have been largely ignored. In early 2020 The Marshall Project partnered with Slate to conduct a first-of-its-kind political survey of people behind bars. Over 8,000 incarcerated people across the country replied, and we continue to receive new responses every day.
Getting information in and out of prisons is extremely difficult. But The Marshall Project had already created an excellent tool for gauging the political landscape in our prisons and jails: News Inside, a print publication we designed for incarcerated readers that circulates in over 500 correctional facilities across the country. Last August, an editor at Slate approached us with the idea of using News Inside to conduct a survey of incarcerated people’s political views. We reached out to polling experts, political scientists, and our incarcerated sources, as well as consulting political opinion polls of the general electorate. We came up with a list of questions that would let us understand how people’s political views in prison compared to those of people on the outside and explore how incarceration itself shapes people’s politics.
Our findings were published in a series of stories in both The Marshall Project and Slate, and our reporters also appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered. Highlights from our analysis include:
As much as the top-line survey results, we believe the extensive comments we published from incarcerated people were revelatory, showing them to have nuanced, thoughtful and passionate political views. We included multiple excerpts from a wide range of people—varied by race, ethnicity, age, gender and geography—to give humanity and depth to people who are often caricatured or stereotyped.
We are proud to nominate our partnership with Slate for the ONA award for explanatory reporting as a ground-breaking survey that allowed our readers to hear directly from incarcerated people about how being imprisoned has shaped their political outlook, how they learn about what’s happening in the political arena, and what political engagement looks like behind bars.