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Are Prisons Obsolete? Paperback – August 5, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-1583225813 ISBN-10: 1583225811 Edition: 0th

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Product Details

  • Series: Open Media Series
  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Seven Stories Press (August 5, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1583225811
  • ISBN-13: 978-1583225813
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.4 x 7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,964 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"In this brilliant, thoroughly researched book, Angela Davis swings a wrecking ball into the racist and sexist underpinnings of the American prison system. Her arguments are well wrought and restrained, leveling an unflinching critique of how and why more than 2 million Americans are presently behind bars, and the corporations who profit from their suffering. Davis explores the biases that criminalize communities of color, politically disenfranchising huge chunks of minority voters in the process. Uncompromising in her vision, Davis calls not merely for prison reform, but for nothing short of 'new terrains of justice.' Another invaluable work in the Open Media Series by one of America's last truly fearless public intellectuals." Cynthia McKinney, former Congresswoman from Georgia -- Review

About the Author

Over the last thirty years, ANGELA YVONNE DAVIS has been active in numerous organizations challenging prison-related repression. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1944 Davis has studied at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, at the Sorbonne, and under Herbert Marcuse at the Goethe Institute and the University of California, San Diego. Her advocacy on behalf of political prisoners, and her alleged connection to the Marin County courthouse incident, led to three capital charges, sixteen months in jail awaiting trial, and a highly publicized acquittal in 1972. In 1998, Davis was one of the twenty-five organizers of the historic Berkeley, California conference “Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison Industrial Complex.” She is the author of many books, including Are Prisons Obsolete? and The Meaning of Freedom, and currently teaches in the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

65 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Suza Francina on January 19, 2004
Format: 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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39 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Alan Mills VINE VOICE on February 1, 2004
Format: 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.
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful By H. Thomas on September 15, 2004
Format: 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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48 of 57 people found the following review helpful By j.r. on August 6, 2004
Format: Paperback
This may just be the way I approach prison issues, but I believe that the current crisis in U.S. prisons -- overincarceration, privitization, horrific health problems, racism, inadequate educational programs -- do not necessarily need a wide historical analysis to call attention to themselves. I am, like Davis, a socialist, but I think the mess that is the prison industrial complex can be described in a way that will make liberals, not just radicals, agree that the system needs to change right away -- and I think that this is more important than focusing on the more abstract idea of prison abolition. When I heard her speak at a prisoner conference last year, she focused on the difference between being a prison reformer and a prison abolitionist: a difference that is addressed in this work. This book as a whole is an argument for prison abolition. But prison reform is more urgent, and more possible. I find it hard to focus on her arguments as a result.

I recommend to people interested in an intro to contemporary prison issues Christian Parenti's book Lockdown America -- he is as angry as Davis, but his book provides more statistical and descriptive evidence than she does as to why you should be angry as well. Articles written by prisoners themselves are collected in the 1998 collection The Celling of America ed by Daniel Burton-Rose and 2003's Prison Nation ed by T. Herivel and P. Wright. (Note that Prison Nation includes articles written by non-prisoners as well.)

Prison activists and those who are currently reading into the american prison system should read Davis' book, but I urge those looking for an introduction not to start here.
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