Are Prisons Obsolete?

By in Criminal Procedure on February 9, 2013

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With her characteristic brilliance, grace and radical audacity, Angela Y. Davis has put the case for the latest abolition movement in American life: the abolition of the prison. As she quite correctly notes, American life is replete with abolition movements, and when they were engaged in these struggles, their chances of success seemed almost unthinkable. For generations of Americans, the abolition of slavery was sheerest illusion. Similarly,the entrenched system of racial segregation seemed to last forever, and generations lived in the midst of the practice, with few predicting its passage from custom. The brutal, exploitative (dare one say lucrative?) convict-lease system that succeeded formal slavery reaped millions to southern jurisdictions (and untold miseries for tens of thousands of men, and women). Few predicted its passing from the American penal landscape. Davis expertly argues how social movements transformed these social, political and cultural institutions, and made such practices untenable.
In Are Prisons Obsolete?, Professor Davis seeks to illustrate that the time for the prison is approaching an end. She argues forthrightly for “decarceration”, and argues for the transformation of the society as a whole.

3 thoughts on “Are Prisons Obsolete?

  1. Suza Francina "Suza Francina, author"
    1
    56 of 61 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    An Urgent Appeal for Alternatives to Incarceration., January 19, 2004
    By 
    Suza Francina “Suza Francina, author” (Ojai, CA United States) –
    (REAL NAME)
      

    This review is from: Are Prisons Obsolete? (Paperback)

    It is almost too much for the human mind to fully comprehend that there are more than 2 million people–a group larger than the population of many countries– presently behind bars in America. While serving as an elected official, I was given an extensive “tour” of one of the local prisons. I tried not to show the horror -and sorrow- I felt at the sight of so many human beings locked away in high tech cages, for fear my “tour” would be cut short.

    This thoroughly researched book by Angela Davis articulates everything I instinctively felt when I got a first hand glimpse of prison life. With the patience and restraint of a Saint, Angela Davis challenges thinking people to face the human rights catastrophe in our jails and prisons.

    It is the authors hope that this book will encourage readers to question their own assumptions about prison. It is my hope that this book will be widely read by everyone involved in the field of education and politics. It should be on the recommended reading list of all high schools, colleges and universities.

    Suza Francina, former Mayor, Ojai, California, and author, The New Yoga for People Over 50.

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  2. 2
    34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    Economics and Racism combine to create our broken prisons, February 1, 2004
    By 
    Alan Mills (Chicago, Illinois USA) –
    (VINE VOICE)
      
    (REAL NAME)
      

    This review is from: Are Prisons Obsolete? (Paperback)

    Following the over throw of reconstruction, the re-empowered white ruling class in the South needed a large pool of cheap labor. The Thirteenth Amendment, which outlawed slavery, contained one glaring exception–slavery was still completely legal for those who had been convicted of a crime. Suddenly, new legislation was enacted which criminalized a wide variety of behaviors not previously considered criminal–having no job, vagrancy, no visible means of support, etc.

    Once these “Black Codes” were in place, prisons in the South were rapidly filled with Blacks. Prior to the Civil War, prisoners in the South were overwhelmingly White. After Reconstruction, they were overwhelmingly Black.

    These new prisoners were “leased” to White plantation owners, at a flat fee. With no capital invested in these new slaves, many were simply worked to death. The economic incentive to ensure that the prisons were full was inescapable.

    In this short, but powerful, book, Angela Davis makes the case that this pattern of incarcerating Blacks, set during the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, carries through to the present. Today the economics of incarceration are more subtle. Money is not primarily made through the labor of prisoners (although that still happens). Today, the real money is made by the underwriters who sell the bonds to finance prison construction, the myriad of industries which supply the country’s 2 million prisoners with everything from soap to light bulbs, and by rural America, where the last three decades of de-industrialization has left prison as one of the very few decent paying union jobs available to formerly blue collar workers.

    Ms. Davis draws on a plethora of academic studies (several dozen of which are cited in footnotes, which provide anyone interested with a comprehensive study guide for understanding the historical antecedents and current realities of America’s love affair with the prison.

    Her bottom line–abandon the whole flawed system. The last chapter, which attempts to answer the immediate question posed to anyone who dares raise this option, is the book’s weakest. Too much rhetoric; not enough solid proposals. Nonetheless, the historical breadth, backed by detailed facts, of Ms. Davis’ book make it well worth reading.

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  3. 3
    31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Why Prisons Aren’t About Justice, September 15, 2004
    By 
    H. Thomas (Oakland, CA) –
    (REAL NAME)
      

    This review is from: Are Prisons Obsolete? (Paperback)

    This book, while providing historical context, is not overly academic and is very readable. Davis presents some startling facts about the prison as a replacement for the plantation and about the intrinsic racism of capital punishment.

    The division between prison reform and prison abolition is an artificial one that need not slow the progress of either prison reform or the development of abolitionist theory. I’ve heard Davis speak on the subject as well. She emphasizes the need to both insist that correctional institutions be reformed AND to acknowledge that there is no “just” way to incarcerate people at the rate that the US currently does.

    Read this book to expand you field of vision about the alternatives to the current criminal justice system and to place these issues in historical context.

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