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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Mass Incarceration on Trial: A Remarkable Court Decision and the Future of Prisons in America

Today's post is no small talk. It's Jonathan Simon's Mass Incarceration on Trial: A Remarkable Court Decision and the Future of Prisons in America. 

Two and a half million Americans are currently in prisons across the nation. A large percentage of these are Supermax prisons in California--those designed to hold a large number of detainees but are still grossly overcrowded. The Supreme Court took on cases examining the constitutionality of prison conditions, culminating in a 2011 decision that examined the constitutionality of mass incarceration. What is the purpose of incarceration, and how is it carried out here in the United States?

This will shock no one. I'm a little bit of a social justice fiend. One of my main foci in the study of education is viewing education as a form of social justice. That being said, there is no way you can be deeply passionate about education and not be at least minimally aware of the preschool to prison pipeline. I am also incredibly passionate about prison justice, so I picked up this book in order to educate myself on issues related to and surrounding mass incarceration. This book, as you can see from the blurb, specifically focuses on mass incarceration in California in the supreme court cases surrounding it.

I found this highly technical book to be surprisingly accessible from a layman's point of view. It's all technical, all of the stuff surrounding court cases and prisons, so explaining it in a way that makes it accessible to someone like me, who doesn't have a law degree, is incredibly important to getting the work out there in order for people to understand what's happening in our country. I have since return edthis book to the library, so I can't remember the exact quote, but one man interviewed essentially says that our prison system was designed to keep incredibly dangerous people away from the general public, but what has ultimately happened is that we have used our prison system as a way to put away those that we find merely inconvenient. Piper Kerman repeats this in Orange Is the New Black, which I've specifically quoted in that post, and anyone who studies prison systems would probably repeat something very similar to you. The more I read books such as this, the more I become disillusioned with what has become of the divide between the haves and the have nots. 

Prisons and the prisoner divide, specifically related to race and class, should be discussed on a much broader level. There is a need for more people to just generally care, because the idea of mass incarceration from a middle-class perspective is very much, well, didn't they do something to deserve that? The inhumanity of treating fellow humans like cattle portrayed in this book is almost unbelievable. The lack of basic healthcare, men in wheelchairs soiling themselves because they simply don't have help to use the restroom, and having illnesses be ignored to the point of death is simply unacceptable. It almost feels, when reading this book, that you are reading about some human rights abuses in a Third World country. Again, though, isn't true stranger than fiction?

For purchase below. 

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