Sunday, April 15, 2007

Reviewed: Western, Punishment and Inequality in America, and other books on "The American Prison Nightmare"

Jason DeParle reviews Punishment and Inequality in America by Bruce Western (Russell Sage Foundation), and two ither books on prisons in an essay, The American Prison Nightmare in the New York Review of Books. De Parle writes, in part:

Bruce Western makes a crucial point at the start of his important book, Punishment and Inequality in America: "If prisons affected no one except the criminals on the inside, they would matter less." But with more than two million Americans behind bars, the impact of mass incarceration is impossible to contain. Their fate affects the taxpayers who support them, the guards who guard them, the families they leave behind, and the communities to which they return. Not even the war in Iraq escapes the reach of prison culture; Sergeant Charles Graner, the villain of Abu Ghraib, worked as a Pennsylvania prison guard.

Everyone is affected, but not equally. Black men in their early thirties are imprisoned at seven times the rate of whites in the same age group. Whites with only a high school education get locked up twenty times as often as those with college degrees. Among the many impediments to reform has been the gap between the people who make criminal justice policy—mostly educated whites who favor imprisonment, especially during twelve years of Republican congressional control—and those who live with the consequences.

There is another impediment to reform: mass incarceration seems to have made the streets safer.

To continue reading, click here.

The other books reviewed are:

Confronting Confinement: A Report of the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons by John J. Gibbons and Nicholas de B. Katzenbach, co-chairs Vera Institute of Justice, (available at here), and

Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy by Jeff Manza and Christopher Uggen (Oxford University Press).