October 28, 2022

Bill Keller

Harvard Book Store’s Virtual Event Series welcomes Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist BILL KELLER for a discussion of his new book What's Prison For?: Punishment and Rehabilitation in the Age of Mass Incarceration. He is joined in conversation by JILL ABRAMSON, former executive editor of The New York Times.


What’s Prison For? examines the “incarceration” part of “mass incarceration.” What happens inside prisons and jails, where nearly two million Americans are held? Bill Keller, one of America’s most accomplished journalists, has spent years immersed in the subject. He argues that the most important role of prisons is preparing incarcerated people to be good neighbors and good citizens when they return to society, as the overwhelming majority will.

Keller takes us inside the walls of our prisons, where we meet men and women who have found purpose while in state custody; American corrections officials who have set out to learn from Europe’s state-of-the-art prison campuses; a rehab unit within a Pennsylvania prison, dubbed Little Scandinavia, where lifers serve as mentors; a college behind bars in San Quentin; a women’s prison that helps imprisoned mothers bond with their children; and Keller’s own classroom at Sing Sing.

Surprising in its optimism, What’s Prison For? is an indispensable guide on how to improve our prison system, and a powerful argument that the status quo is a shameful waste of human potential.

About Author(s)

Bill Keller is a Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist, most recently serving as editor-in-chief of The Marshall Project, a non-profit, independent news organization focused on crime and punishment in the United States. He joined the venture as founding editor in March 2014, after 30 years at the New York Times as a correspondent, editor, and Op-Ed columnist. During his eight years (2003-2011) as executive editor of the Times, the newspaper won 18 Pulitzer Prizes and expanded its audience by adapting the newsroom to the journalistic potential of the Internet.

Jill Abramson held senior editorial positions at The New York Times, being the first woman to serve as Washington bureau chief, managing editor, and executive editor. She spent nine years at The Wall Street Journal. She is the author of Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts, and co-author of Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas, a National Book Award finalist. A senior lecturer at Harvard University, she writes a column about U.S. politics for The Guardian.