What Could Have Kept Me Out of Prison

Therapy. Affordable housing. A living wage.

Inmates sit at library desks and work with laptops.
Inmates at Cook County Jail compete in a chess tournament online with inmates from the Prison Complex of Viana in Espirito Santo, Brazil, on May 17, 2017, in Chicago. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Read more from this series: Incarcerated people weigh in on defunding the police and organizers try to unlock the vote in jails.

After the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the American public was jolted into awareness of police brutality—and caught up in heated debates about whether to defund the police and invest instead in services like mental health. But incarcerated people rarely have an opportunity to be part of the national conversation.

So in our second-round political survey inside prisons and jails, Slate and the Marshall Project asked people behind bars what programs might have helped to keep them from committing the crimes that led to their incarceration.

Nearly 2,400 respondents told us about their struggles with drug addiction, mental health, and domestic violence. They shared stories of difficulties finding well-paying work and stable housing. Others took sole responsibility for their mistakes. Here are some of their answers, edited for length and clarity.