Bucknell & Local Prisons — Connections Span Decades
How Prison Hits Home
UNLIKE MOST who study the American prison system, Professor Vanessa Massaro, geography, focuses not on life inside prison, but on the families left behind.

Massaro looks at how racial disparities in the criminal-justice system contribute to high rates of incarceration in some communities. She analyzes the economic toll, such as how the cost of a bus ticket can keep families from visiting incarcerated loved ones. She believes the prison system can better engage with families and communities to reduce rates of recidivism, saying, “The families of inmates are the system’s best allies in reducing the chances of reoffending.”

Massaro selects outstanding students from her classes or programs such as the Presidential Fellows or Bucknell Institute for Public Policy Research Fellows to aid in data collection and analysis. Partnering Bucknell students with residents of communities where incarceration is common has vastly exceeded her expectations.

“I was most surprised by the relationships students developed with the neighborhood-based research assistants,” says Massaro. “These bonds were so strong, so collaborative, and the students learned so much from them, and I think they learned so much from the students.”

Massaro feels evidence-based understandings are more important than ever. “If we are going to address the issues of mass incarceration, we need good research. I just believe in the power of research, and that motivates me.” — Haley Mullen ’19