The Prison and the Gallows: The Politics of Mass Incarceration in America

Cambridge University Press
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The United States has built a carceral state that is unprecedented among Western countries and in US history. Nearly one in 50 people, excluding children and the elderly, is incarcerated today, a rate unsurpassed anywhere else in the world. What are some of the main political forces that explain this unprecedented reliance on mass imprisonment? Throughout American history, crime and punishment have been central features of American political development. This 2006 book examines the development of four key movements that mediated the construction of the carceral state in important ways: the victims' movement, the women's movement, the prisoners' rights movement, and opponents of the death penalty. This book argues that punitive penal policies were forged by particular social movements and interest groups within the constraints of larger institutional structures and historical developments that distinguish the United States from other Western countries.
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About the author

Marie Gottschalk is an associate professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. She has a PhD in political science from Yale University and an MPA from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. She is the author of The Shadow Welfare State: Labor, Business, and the Politics of Health Care in the United States (Cornell University Press, 2000). She is a a former associate editor of World Policy Journal and a former associate director of the World Policy Institute in New York City.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Cambridge University Press
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Published on
Jun 19, 2006
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Pages
265
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ISBN
9781139455213
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
Law / Criminal Law / General
Political Science / American Government / General
Political Science / General
Social Science / Criminology
Social Science / Penology
Social Science / Sociology / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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The imprisonment rate in America has grown by a factor of five since 1972. In that time, punishment policies have toughened, compassion for prisoners has diminished, and prisons have gotten worse-a stark contrast to the origins of the prison 200 years ago as a humanitarian reform, a substitute for capital and corporal punishment and banishment. So what went wrong? How can prisons be made simultaneously more effective and more humane? Who should be sent there in the first place? What should happen to them while they are inside? When, how, and under what conditions should they be released? The Future of Imprisonment unites some of the leading prisons and penal policy scholars of our time to address these fundamental questions. Inspired by the work of Norval Morris, the contributors look back to the past twenty-five years of penal policy in an effort to look forward to the prison's twenty-first century future. Their essays examine the effects of current high levels of imprisonment on urban neighborhoods and the people who live in them. They reveal how current policies came to be as they are and explain the theories of punishment that guide imprisonment decisions. Finally, the contributors argue for the strategic importance of controls on punishment including imprisonment as a limit on government power; chart the rise and fall of efforts to improve conditions inside; analyze the theory and practice of prison release; and evaluate the tricky science of predicting and preventing recidivism. A definitive guide to imprisonment policies for the future, this volume convincingly demonstrates how we can prevent crime more effectively at lower economic and human cost.
“I can think of no authors more qualified to research the complex impact of life sentences than Marc Mauer and Ashley Nellis. They have the expertise to track down the information that all citizens need to know and the skills to translate that research into accessible and powerful prose.”
—Heather Ann Thompson, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Blood in the Water

From the author of the classic Race to Incarcerate, a forceful and necessary argument for eliminating life sentences, including profiles of six people directly impacted by life sentences by formerly incarcerated author Kerry Myers

Most Western democracies have few or no people serving life sentences, yet here in the United States more than 200,000 people are sentenced to such prison terms.

Marc Mauer and Ashley Nellis of The Sentencing Project argue that there is no practical or moral justification for a sentence longer than twenty years. Harsher sentences have been shown to have little effect on crime rates, since people “age out” of crime—meaning that we’re spending a fortune on geriatric care for older prisoners who pose little threat to public safety. Extreme punishment for serious crime also has an inflationary effect on sentences across the spectrum, helping to account for severe mandatory minimums and other harsh punishments.

A thoughtful and stirring call to action, The Meaning of Life also features moving profiles of a half dozen people affected by life sentences, written by former “lifer” and award-winning writer Kerry Myers. The book will tie in to a campaign spearheaded by The Sentencing Project and offers a much-needed road map to a more humane criminal justice system.

The past 30 years have seen vast changes in our attitudes toward crime. More and more of us live in gated communities; prison populations have skyrocketed; and issues such as racial profiling, community policing, and "zero-tolerance" policies dominate the headlines. How is it that our response to crime and our sense of criminal justice has come to be so dramatically reconfigured? David Garland charts the changes in crime and criminal justice in America and Britain over the past twenty-five years, showing how they have been shaped by two underlying social forces: the distinctive social organization of late modernity and the neoconservative politics that came to dominate the United States and the United Kingdom in the 1980s.

Garland explains how the new policies of crime and punishment, welfare and security—and the changing class, race, and gender relations that underpin them—are linked to the fundamental problems of governing contemporary societies, as states, corporations, and private citizens grapple with a volatile economy and a culture that combines expanded personal freedom with relaxed social controls. It is the risky, unfixed character of modern life that underlies our accelerating concern with control and crime control in particular. It is not just crime that has changed; society has changed as well, and this transformation has reshaped criminological thought, public policy, and the cultural meaning of crime and criminals. David Garland's The Culture of Control offers a brilliant guide to this process and its still-reverberating consequences.
At no time in history, and certainly in no other democratic society, have prisons been filled so quickly and to such capacity than in the United States. And nowhere has this growth been more concentrated than in the disadvantaged--and primarily minority--neighborhoods of America's largest urban cities. In the most impoverished places, as much as 20% of the adult men are locked up on any given day, and there is hardly a family without a father, son, brother, or uncle who has not been behind bars. While the effects of going to and returning home from prison are well-documented, little attention has been paid to the impact of removal on neighborhoods where large numbers of individuals have been imprisoned. In the first detailed, empirical exploration of the effects of mass incarceration on poor places, Imprisoning Communities demonstrates that in high doses incarceration contributes to the very social problems it is intended to solve: it breaks up family and social networks; deprives siblings, spouses, and parents of emotional and financial support; and threatens the economic and political infrastructure of already struggling neighborhoods. Especially at risk are children who, research shows, are more likely to commit a crime if a father or brother has been to prison. Clear makes the counterintuitive point that when incarceration concentrates at high levels, crime rates will go up. Removal, in other words, has exactly the opposite of its intended effect: it destabilizes the community, thus further reducing public safety. Demonstrating that the current incarceration policy in urban America does more harm than good, from increasing crime to widening racial disparities and diminished life chances for youths, Todd Clear argues that we cannot overcome the problem of mass incarceration concentrated in poor places without incorporating an idea of community justice into our failing correctional and criminal justice systems.
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