Criminal Justice Educational Resources

Download this handy six-page guide to Criminal Justice Education Resources with our top recommendations for learning about the US justice system and restorative justice.

About Restorative Justice (RJ):

•  Restorative Justice in a Nutshell - video
•  Neuroscience of Restorative Justice - video
•  NPR article on finding hope in restorative healing after crime

Keep Learning More about the US justice system


Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
Bryan Stevenson’s account of his decades-long career as a legal advocate for marginalized people who have been either falsely convicted or harshly sentenced. This account brings hope and inspiration into the pain and brokenness of the US legal system. This book is especially good for faith groups. Study guides available.

Accounting for Violence: How to Increase Safety and Break Our Failed Reliance on Mass Incarceration. By Danielle Sered.   A long essay, available for free download through the Vera Institute, that lays out fundamental values that should underlie our justice system.  Danielle Sered runs a powerful group in New York that pushes us all to consider how a community can confront the most violent crimes, and those who commit them - and to do so in a way that radically empowers and engages crime survivors.

Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform by John F. Pfaff
Having spent fifteen years studying the data on imprisonment, John Pfaff takes apart the reigning consensus created by Michelle Alexander and other reformers…and urges us to look at other factors instead, including a major shift in prosecutor behavior that occurred in the mid-1990s, when prosecutors began bringing felony charges against arrestees about twice as often as they had before.

Grace Goes to Prison: An Inspiring Story of Hope and Humanity by Melanie G Snyder
A woman named Marie Hamilton started visiting inmates in a Pennsylvania prison in the 1970s, and developed relationships over the decades that transformed her own vision of the system, and inspired transformation for those around her. Her service moved her toward the practice of Restorative Justice, touching thousands of lives and bringing humanity and respect to persons so often overlooked.

The New Jim Crow: mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
A groundbreaking look at how racial discrimination in America influenced the mass incarceration of African-Americans. (study guides available)

From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America by Elizabeth Hinton
This book challenges the belief that America’s prison problem originated with the Reagan administration’s War on Drugs, Elizabeth Hinton traces the rise of mass incarceration to an ironic source: the social welfare programs of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society at the height of the civil rights era.

Angels with Dirty Faces: Three Stories of Crime, Prison, and Redemption by Walidah Imarisha
Portland author, teacher, and speaker explores her own relationships with loved ones in prison – and her relationship with the justice system as a whole.

After the Crime: The Power of Restorative Justice Dialogues between Victims and Violent Offenders by Susan Miller
A fundamental text in understanding the views of victims and survivors of crime, from a Restorative Justice perspective.

Prison Fathers: Parenting From Behind Bars by Latif Bossman
Prison Fathers is a memoir charting the journey of an incarcerated African American father faced with the dilemma of parenting from prison. He copes with the loss of his freedom and struggles to find ways to continue to communicate with his children, provide for them financially, manage stress, provide emotional support, and deal with the addition of new children. Hundreds of miles away from his children, family, and friends removed from a life of so-called normalcy to one filled with so much uncertainty, he faces issues like abandonment, acceptance, and visitation and other struggles in this new world as an incarcerated father. Through all that was a struggle became a strength. With an undying love for his children, his energy was focused in continuing to fulfill his duties as a father. With the help of family, friends, community and a desire to truly be a better father, he was able to remain a staple in the fabric of his children's lives until his release from incarceration. Prison Fathers is available on Amazon and from the Oregon-based author.

Compassionate Justice: an Interdisciplinary Dialogue with Two Gospel Parables on Law, Crime and Restorative Justice by Christopher D. Marshall. (published by Cascade Books, Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2012)
Two parables that have become firmly lodged in popular consciousness are the parable of the Good Samaritan and the parable of the Prodigal Son. These simple but subversive tales have had a significant impact historically in shaping the spiritual, aesthetic, moral and legal traditions of Western civilization. Compassionate Justice draws on the insights of restorative justice theory, legal philosophy and social psychology to offer a compelling analysis of how the priorities commended by the parables are pertinent to the criminal justice system today.

The Little Book of Restorative Justice by Howard Zehr
Zehr is a pioneer of Restorative Justice, and this concise text lays out major themes and issues for both new and experienced RJ practitioners.

The Little Book of Biblical Justice: A fresh approach to the Bible’s teachings on justice by Good Books (Intercourse, PA 17534, 2005)
The Bible has had a profound impact on the development of Western culture. So exploring the biblical perspectives on justice can help us appreciate some of convictions and values that have helped shape Western political and judicial thought. Upfront, Marshall addresses the many complexities that surround “justice” in the Bible. Marshall’s honest treatment of this subject is direct, yet almost lyrical.

Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle.  Written by a pastor in Los Angeles, California – a city riddled with gang violence – this book focuses on how the power of compassion and restoring humanity can have a powerful healing effect on community.  Through Gregory’s eyes and experiences, he shares the stories of individuals in his community: their journeys, hardships, and triumphs.  Moreover, he shows how faith, kindness, and mercy among other things, teach us how to better love ourselves and those around us – especially those who really need our love.  Overall, one quote from the book captures the heart Gregory’s message: “Turns out this is what we all have in common, gang member and non-gang member alike: we’re just trying to learn how to bear the beams of love.”  (Review by Caitlyn Lauchner)

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
Available widely in 2017 as the Multnomah County Library “Everybody Reads” title, this nonfiction account traces the lives of a diverse series of individuals and families in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who sharing one experience: eviction from their homes in the private rental market. The bulk of the book is intimate portraits of the struggles these families face as they navigate setbacks forced upon them. They are seeking shelter in a society where landlords have disproportionate power - backed by the state - to maximize profit at the expense of public health. Readers cannot help being both moved and frustrated at the struggles they face. The stories make a strong case for systemic reform of the housing market, to strengthen the hand of renters against the power of landlords. And if personal stories fail to elicit concern, the richly researched details about eviction statistics in the epilogue bring home the harm eviction does to society at large.

The experiences detailed in this book are located in Wisconsin but they translate to Oregon, as we face a crisis in affordable housing statewide, as well as legislative stubbornness to make needed changes. In 2017, the Oregon state legislature failed to pass reforms to allow rent control or to prevent the rampant no-cause evictions that create havoc and suffering for marginalized Oregonians. The power of landlord lobbies is strong here, too.

Connections between the housing crisis and criminal justice reform are worth emphasizing. The challenge of eviction might elicit the most sympathy when children are impacted, but the instability of the rental market greatly impacts anyone with criminal convictions (many of whom also have children!). One of the biggest challenges facing people after prison is housing, so when it’s hard for anyone to find housing, it’s even harder for people with records to find housing. Add on a history of sexual offenses, and the barriers to stable housing are great. In a society that expects people who’ve done their time to seamlessly reintegrate into society - with few formal resources to ease the transition - the barriers that anyone in poverty faces can land doubly hard on people who must continue to wear the label of felon. In addition, evictions can force individuals into the criminal justice system, leaving them scarred with a record. The issues of housing justice and criminal justice reform thus cannot be tidily separated; this is intersectionality at work.


“This American War on Drugs,” On the Media episode, broadcast by WNYC, August 24, 2017, 50 min.

This episode of the popular weekly National Public Radio show covers the history of the “War on Drugs” and how political machinations created, not the drug epidemics themselves, but the highly punitive, racist societal responses to drug problems.

Featuring a diverse mix of views and voices, the podcast explains how political leaders have used mass hysteria about drug use to feed personal political agendas. It tells the story of Harry Anslinger, a man few people have heard of yet all of us have been impacted by - in that he invented and shaped the modern concept of the war on drugs. Heartbreakingly, he also had a hand in the racist forces that drove musical genius Billie Holiday to her death.

This podcast episode also argues effectively about the ways drug abuse is driven by economic forces - especially despair of the working classes - while at the same time responses to drug use often exploit racist and xenophobic tropes, to exacerbate a hierarchical socio-economic and racial social order.


Thirteenth Documentary by Ava duVernay
Available on Netflix, 13th explores the "intersection of race, justice and mass incarceration in the United States;" it is titled after the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which freed the slaves and prohibited slavery … unless as punishment for a crime. Several discussions guides are available on the internet.

The House I Live In.  A PBS documentary available for free online (without a subscription service), this film explores the human costs of the War on Drugs - and how it is failing Americans both through over-incarceration and not treating the scourge of drug abuse.

Rikers: An American Jail
The U.S. is facing a crisis of mass incarceration with over 2.2 million people packed into its jails and prisons. To understand the human toll of this crisis, Rikers Island is a good place to start. Of the more than 7,500 people detained at Rikers Island on any given day, almost 80% have not yet been found guilty or innocent of the charges they face. All are at risk in the pervasive culture of violence that forces people to come to terms with what they must do for their own survival. This new documentary from Bill Moyers brings you face to face with men and women who have endured incarceration at Rikers Island. Their stories vividly describe the cruel arc of the Rikers experience—from the shock of entry, to extortion exercised by other inmates, oppressive interactions with corrections officers, torture of solitary confinement and the many challenges of returning to the outside world. Study guides online:

Films Available on YouTube

Racism in Oregon’s Justice System
A short movie by Portland State University students for a class under Professor DeEtte Beghtol Waleed in 2017, detailing the impact of racism on Oregon’s correctional system:

False Imprisonment
A short movie by Portland State University students for a class under Professor DeEtte Beghtol Waleed in 2017, detailing the impact of false imprisonment.

The Exonerated
Transcripts of court documents and interviews reveal the harrowing ordeal endured by innocent death-row inmates.

Serving Life
Actor Forest Whitaker narrates the story of a group of inmate volunteers who staff their own hospice inside a maximum security prison in Louisiana where the average sentence is more than 90 years.

Prison Kids (Juvenile Justice in America)
We incarcerate children at a higher rate than any other developed country. Kids make mistakes—sometimes large, sometimes small. And every day in America, they can be locked up in stark, mismanaged hellholes and marked for life.

Also consider Ted talks and YouTube videos by Adam Foss
TED Talk: Adam Foss, a Prosecutor’s Vision for a Better Justice System

Organizations in Oregon

Criminal Justice Commission
Oregon’s CJC provides a rich online database of facts and figures describing Oregon’s prison population.

Oregonians Against the Death Penalty
Oregon has thirty-sex people (thirty-five men and one woman) on death row.

Help Hope Heal
Online tools for crime survivors and their loved ones.

The Center for Trauma Support Services
A Portland group that applies a Restorative Justice lens to working with crime survivors.

Oregon Justice Resource Center
OJRC promotes civil rights and improves legal representation for communities that have often been underserved in the past: people living in poverty and people of color among them. They train future public interest lawyers, and educate our community on civil rights and current civil liberties concerns.

ACLU of Oregon
Amongst other services, They Report to You is a new campaign by Oregon’s ACLU to raise awareness about the impact District Attorneys have on sentencing, and mass incarceration as a whole.

Partnership for Safety and Justice (PSJ)
Key to advocacy for reform in Salem, PSJ has helped craft and pass groundbreaking legislation, most lately around justice reinvestment and alternative sentencing approaches for parents. also lists resources for transition services.

Oregon Abuse Advocates & Survivors in Service empowers survivors of sexual violence. With a new website at and a renewed mission to build a movement to prevent child sexual abuse and help healing, OAASIS is in the heart of true transformation for what justice looks like in Oregon.

Fight against Sex Trafficking/Fight Against Slavery/Trafficking
FAST connects groups working to end human trafficking. The FAST monthly email newsletter lists events and ways to plug into the work across Oregon.

Oregon Knowledge Bank
This website profiles justice programs applied in different Oregon counties.

National Organizations

The Marshall Project
The Marshall Project is a nonpartisan nonprofit news organization that seeks to sustain a sense of national urgency about the justice system, striving to enlarge the audience of people who care about the state of criminal justice.

The Fair Punishment Project
The Fair Punishment Project is helping create a fair and accountable justice system through legal action, public discourse, and educational initiatives.

Equal Justice Initiative
Led by Bryan Stevenson, EJI works to end wrongful convictions and get justice for children in the system. A new project is creating a museum and monuments for the victims of racist lynching.

Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.
CLINIC compiles daily news and advocacy about justice for immigrants in the US, based in Catholic values of welcoming the stranger, per Biblical teachings.

Vera Institute of Justice
The Vera Institute of Justice’s vision is to tackle the most pressing injustices of our day—the causes and consequences of mass incarceration, racial disparities, the loss of public trust in law enforcement, and the unmet needs of the vulnerable, the marginalized, and those harmed by crime and violence.

The Sentencing Project
Founded in 1986, the Sentencing Project works for a fair and effective U. S. criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing policy, addressing unjust racial disparities and advocating for alternatives to incarceration.

The Prison Policy Initiative
Looks at the global state of incarceration, and where the United States (and Oregon) fit into the picture.

Metrocosm: Prisoners in the Free World – America’s Astronomical Incarceration Rate
This article compiles various charts demonstrating ways the US uses prisons that make it an outlier in the world.

The American Prison Writing Archive  evolved from a book project completed in 2014 with the publication of Fourth City: Essays from the Prison in America, the largest collection to date of non-fiction writing by currently incarcerated Americans writing about their experience inside.

articles to keep learning

Gender-responsive Corrections
NPR spotlight on ways of approaching prisons differently, for men and women.

Crime Survivors Speak from Alliance for Safety and Justice.
A national survey on victims' views of safety and justice.

Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics
The U.S. Department of Justice attempts to uniformly track crime rates throughout the nation. This data is based on reported crime rates, which does not reflect the actual amount of crime committed. It does not take into account why some crimes may be reported at different rates or if reporting rates vary over time.

Oregon General Election Voters Pamphlet (1994) – Measure 10 & 11 Voter’s Guide statements
In 1994, Oregon voters approved Measures 10 & 11, which create mandatory minimum sentences that apply to people as young as 15 and make the repeal of these laws extremely difficult. Every eligible voter in Oregon receives an official Voters’ pamphlet, which includes fell text of each ballot measure, an objective explanatory statement and unlimited arguments for and against each ballot measure. Anyone can submit an argument for inclusion by either paying a fee or collecting a certain number of signatures. The arguments for or against ballot measures are not verified for factual accuracy.

Moving Beyond Sides: The Power and Potential of a New Public Safety Policy Paradigm (2011)
This report amplifies the diverse voices of crime survivors and suggests ways that violence can be reduced and the needs of both crime survivors and people who have done harm can be met by criminal justice policy reforms.

Crime victims and offenders have a shared interest in transforming our justice system (2018)
In this recent Oregonian Op-ed, the writer presents a pathway toward a public safety system that better serves survivors, the people who’ve caused harm, and the families and communities of both in the following op-ed published in The Oregonian.

North Dakota’s Norway Experiment
Reforms in the North Dakota state prison system are featured in this recent article. It emphasizes the positive outcomes when the prison is transformed from a violent and punitive setting to a setting that facilitates relationship and rehabilitation.

How Structural Racism Fuels the Response to the Opioid Crisis (blog)
Consider the impact of the War on Drugs and a carceral/justice system approach to substance abuse, compared to a public health/treatment approach.  Has the justice-based approach helped end drug abuse?  Why does society respond differently to drug problems in different communities?