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Books on Prisons and Punishment

Are Prisons Obsolete?
Angela Davis, Seven Stories Press, 2003

"In this extraordinary book, Angela Davis challenges us to confront the human rights catastrophe in our jails and prisons. As she so convincingly argues, the contemporary U.S. practice of super-incarceration is closer to new age slavery than to any recognizable system of 'criminal justice'."—Mike Davis

Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress
Becky Pettit, Russell Sage Foundation, June 2012

Nearly 70 percent of young black men will be imprisoned at some point in their lives, and poor black men with low levels of education make up a disproportionate share of incarcerated Americans. Pettit shows that, because prison inmates are not included in most survey data, statistics that seemed to indicate a narrowing black-white racial gap—on educational attainment, work force participation, and earnings—instead fail to capture persistent racial, economic, and social disadvantage among African Americans.

Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison
Michel Foucault, Vintage, 1995, 2nd ed.

Traces the shifts in culture that led to the dominance prisons, focusing on the body and questions of power. Describes how disciplinary power conditions society.

The New Jim Crow
Michelle Alexander, New Press, 2012, reprint, introduction by Cornel West

More African Americans are under correctional control today than were enslaved in 1850. Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits.

Life After Death
Damien Echols, Blue Rider Press, 2012

“Damien Echols spent eighteen years on death row for murders he did not commit. Somehow, in the depths of his nightmare, he found the courage and strength not only to survive, but to grow, to create, to forgive, and to understand. Life After Death is a brilliant, haunting, painful, and uplifting narrative of a hopeless childhood, a wrongful conviction, a brutal incarceration, and the beginning of a new life.” — John Grisham

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, NAL Trade, 2009, reprint

Solzhenitsyn's first book tells the story of a typical, grueling day in a labor camp in Siberia

The Oxford History of the Prison: The Practice of Punishment in Western Society
Norval Morris and David J. Rothman, Editors, Oxford, 1997

A team of scholars trace the rise and development of the prison and the changes that have occurred over the centuries. Describes how penalties other than incarceration were once much more common.


Are Prisons Obsolete?

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