Shows about incarceration

Curated by the team behind 70 Million, a new open-source podcast about criminal justice reform from Lantigua Williams & Co. Here, they present a collection of podcasts that look at incarceration inside and outside prisons.

A bail bonds agency welcomes business next door to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. A federal judge recently ruled the county’s bail practices unconstitutional. Photo credit: Ruxandra Guidi for 70 Million.

When we set out to make 70 Million, we knew there were so many stories we could unearth and angles we could take while reporting on the complicated American criminal justice system that ensnares tens of millions each year. Understanding these systems is no easy task, and the podcasts in this playlist have helped us better grasp the structures at play.

Despite the prevalence of true-crime podcasts and criminal justice reporting from mainstream publications, 70 Million reporters faced a wide knowledge gap in the area of grassroots jail reform. Across the country, communities are working to reverse the toxic influence of local jails, but their stories don’t get much airtime on the national stage.

That’s why season one of 70 Million focuses on solutions journalism that highlights the power of community to enact real change, one story at a time. Listen to 70 Million and the other informative shows in this collection to hear about reforms from the ground up that are closer than you think.

70 Million is made possible by a grant from the Safety and Justice Challenge at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

View, follow, and listen to the whole collection of shows on RadioPublic, available on iOS and Android.

70 Million

70 million Americans older than 18 have a criminal record. 70 Million asks: how did we get here and what do we do now? We document how residents and communities are taking up the challenge of reforms, one jail–and story–at a time. We travel around the country to learn about local efforts in diversion, bail reform, recidivism, and specialty courts–all with the goal of lessening the impact of jails on communities.

Ear Hustle

Birthed from the San Quentin Prison Report (now San Quentin Radio), Ear Hustle from Radiotopia is about to debut its third season about life on the inside. Earlonne Woods is an inmate at San Quentin and Nigel Poor is an artist who works with incarcerated individuals, and together they produce all the stories from inside the prison walls. Episodes about cellmates, queer inmates, sex trafficking, and so much more never cease to move you.

Unprisoned: Stories from the System

Did you know that New Orleans is the incarceration capital of the world? Unprisoned: Stories from the System asks why. From bail to municipal court to homelessness, producer Eve Abrams at WWNO investigates stories about why Louisiana has the highest per-capita incarceration rate. The patterns she unearths go beyond the patchwork of Louisiana’s legal system to show how poverty and race tend to play an outsized role in our country’s mass incarceration problem.

Caught: The Lives of Juvenile Justice

From WNYC Studios, Caught has a simple yet revealing premise: “mass incarceration starts young.” Host Kai Wright and a team of producers unravel the painful cycle of juvenile justice through the lens of the young people caught in the middle. Honor, for example, was a 16-year-old battling leukemia and family conflict when one moment changed everything, and Maria’s struggle with truancy threatens to send her to juvenile detention. Caught questions whether the American juvenile justice system is at all fair and just.

Justice in America

A new one from The Appeal, the criminal justice publication, and hosted by Josie Duffy Rice and Clint Smith III, Justice in America is an American criminal justice system explainer for the rest of us. Each episode starts with an introductory discussion of an issue, like bail, plea deals, or prosecutors. Then the hosts invite an expert to dive further in. Central to the conversations are the questions of who wins and who loses in the justice system.

Criminal (In)justice

University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris hosts this interview-based show that goes beyond the standard framing surrounding criminal justice. Recent episodes have touched on sentinel event analysis, using data instead of pre-trial bail, and how solitary confinement especially affects folks with disabilities. Throughout the interviews David helps dispel common misconceptions, looks at the interweaving forces that make criminal justice so hard to reform, and most importantly, explores new ideas and possible solutions. Listen all the way to the end for the fan favorite segment, “Lawyers Behaving Badly.”


Hosted by criminal justice advocate Marlon Peterson who, himself, served 10 years in prison, Decarcerated is a prolific, conversational podcast focused on guests’ career and life successes post-incarceration. The fluid, off-the-cuff conversations are enthralling thanks to Marlon’s pointed questions and his ability to let the guests’ full biography show and inspire others.  

Written Inside

Adapted from essays written by inmates at a maximum security prison, these short stories make up Written Inside, created by journalist Alex Kotlowitz and produced with WBEZ. The eight essays are simple, illuminating, beautifully told, and always moving, and give a counterpoint to the storytelling style of Ear Hustle.

Want to create your own collection of shows that dovetails with your area of interest? Add shows to your Smart Folder on RadioPublic, then inform the Podcast Librarian of your collection:

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