CWU News

Locked Up and Locked Down: CWU Opens Bold Dialogue on Mass Incarceration

The United States incarcerates more people than any other nation on earth and currently imprisons more than two million individuals. With less than 5 percent of the world population, the United States accounts for 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.

These numbers are especially disturbing when accounting for race—African Americans are five times more likely to be incarcerated as whites, and Latinos are twice as likely to be incarcerated.

Galvanized by these startling statistics, faculty and staff across the university have initiated Mass Incarceration and Racial Justice: Black and Brown Lives Do Matter, a community-wide dialogue to encourage students, faculty, staff, and the general public to address the vast array of issues that these staggering numbers represent. The year’s initiative is the inaugural program for the new Social Justice and Human Rights series, which will annually develop a new theme for the campus to explore.

“We wanted to bring awareness of how this national crisis affects all of us—even in areas like Kittitas County,” said Stacey Robertson, chair of the Mass Incarceration steering committee and dean of Central Washington University’s College of Arts and Humanities. “And because this is a multifaceted problem, we wanted to engage every unit on campus and with people throughout our community. The response has been tremendous. So far more than 75 people are serving on committees for the initiative.”

An important component of the initiative is introducing the subject into curriculum throughout CWU, and encouraging clubs and organizations to become involved in service activities that address aspects of this issue.

Working with a variety of groups across campus, such as the Center for Diversity and Social Justice and the Office of Inclusivity and Diversity, the core committee behind the initiative has already scheduled a number of events that explore the many ways mass incarceration impacts everyone’s lives. During the winter term, for example CWU will host celebrated writers Ta-Nehisi Coates and Michael Eric Dyson, among others. Members of the campus and the surrounding community are invited to participate.

For more information about Mass Incarceration, go to Below is a listing of events for October. Check the schedule frequently, since events are added on a regular basis.

October 1, 6:00 p.m. The Penitent: Images from Eastern State Penitentiary, by Chris Heard. Opening reception, Museum of Culture and Environment, through December 12.

October 13, 7:30 p.m. Lion Rock Writer’s Series presents Rene Denfeld, Wellington Event Center. Denfeld is a death penalty investigator who works with men and women on death row. Her novel, The Enchanted, is set in death row in a corrupt prison. For more information about her work, see Denfeld will also participate in a roundtable discussion entitled "Ultimate Questions: Artists Confront Mass Incarceration and the Death Penalty," at noon at the Museum of Culture and Environment.

October 22, 4:00 p.m., Suburbanization and Racial Segregation, Stephanie Hallock of Harford Community College, Bel Air, Maryland, in the Sarah Spurgeon Gallery, Randall Hall.

October 26, 7:30 p.m. “Mass Incarceration, Race and Human Rights,“ presented by David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project, Music Building Recital Hall. The project challenges the conditions of confinement in prisons, jails, and other detention facilities, and works to end US overreliance on incarceration. The Brooks Library will host a book information display related to this talk.

Media Contact: Valerie Chapman-Stockwell, Public Affairs, 509-963-1518,
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress--Bunk and toilet at the West Virginia State Penitentiary, a retired, gothic-style prison in Moundsville, West Virginia, that operated from 1876 to 1995