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For more than five decades, PEN America’s Prison and Justice Writing program has amplified the work of thousands of writers who are creating while incarcerated in the United States. By providing resources, mentorship, and audiences outside the walls, we help these writers to join and enrich the broader literary community. Committed to the freedom to write in U.S. prisons as a critical free expression issue of our time, we leverage the transformative possibilities of writing to raise public consciousness about the societal implications of mass incarceration and support the development of justice-involved literary talent.

We achieve this through the following initiatives:

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Prison Banned Books Week 2023

To commemorate the first Prison Banned Book Week, PEN America released a new report showing the staggering extent of restrictions on reading materials for people in carceral settings.

Read the report >>

Take action against prison censorship >>

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The Sentences That Create Us

PEN America’s new book, The Sentences That Create Us: Crafting A Writer’s Life in Prison (Haymarket Books) provides a road map for incarcerated people and their allies to have a thriving writing life behind bars—and shared beyond the walls—that draws on the unique insights of more than fifty contributors, most themselves justice-involved, to offer advice, inspiration and resources.

Learn more »

And learn more about our companion curriculum of writers' workshops >>

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PEN Prison Writing Contest

For over 30 years, hundreds of imprisoned writers from around the country submit poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and dramatic works to the yearly PEN Prison Writing Contest, one of the longest-running outlets of free expression for the country’s incarcerated population.

Learn more >>

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PEN Prison Writing Mentorship Program

PEN America’s Prison Writing Mentorship Program consists of more than 300 working writers in relationship with close to 300 incarcerated writers working together toward individualized literary goals and cultivating an engaged literary community through and behind the walls.

Find out more about the Mentor Program »

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Writing for Justice Fellowship

PEN America’s Writing for Justice Fellowship commissions writers—emerging or established—to create written works of lasting merit that illuminate critical issues related to mass incarceration and catalyze public debate.

Learn more about the current Fellows and how to apply »

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Works of Justice Publications and Podcast

Works of Justice is a PEN America Prison and Justice Writing online literary series and podcast that explores the relationship between writing and incarceration, and challenges current conversations about criminal justice in the United States.

Read and listen to our Works of Justice series »

Read Award-Winning Works from the PEN Prison Writing Contest

Each year, PEN America produces an incredible collection of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and drama written by talented writers in prison. Included in each anthology are original groundbreaking illustrations by artists both with and without justice involvement.

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Contact Us

For questions related to our programming areas and resources, please reach out to [email protected].

Meet Our Team

headshot of Malcolm TariqMalcolm Tariq, PhD
Senior Editorial Manager, Prison and Justice Writing
Moira Marquis
Senior Manager, The Freewrite Project

Jess Abolafia
Coordinator, PEN Prison Writing Mentorship Program

Illustration by Maria Lavezzo. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Bob Schutz; INDIANA HISTORICAL SOCIETY, MO798