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64 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Urgent Appeal for Alternatives to Incarceration.
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...
Published on January 19, 2004 by Suza Francina

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45 of 53 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars theory heavy; not a good intro to prison issues
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...
Published on August 6, 2004 by j.r.


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64 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Urgent Appeal for Alternatives to Incarceration., January 19, 2004
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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38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Economics and Racism combine to create our broken prisons, February 1, 2004
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Alan Mills (Chicago, Illinois USA) - See all my reviews
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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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45 of 53 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars theory heavy; not a good intro to prison issues, August 6, 2004
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This review is from: Are Prisons Obsolete? (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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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Prisons Aren't About Justice, September 15, 2004
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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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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliantly Reasoned Critique of the American Prison System, April 21, 2006
This review is from: Are Prisons Obsolete? (Paperback)
In "Are Prisons Obsolete?", Professor Davis provides a clear and cogent argument that prisons not only are obsolete but that they have always been and always will be ineffectual for any purpose other than to oppress an unfairly disfavored class of people.

I concur with a previous reviewer that Professor Davis's book is by no means overly theoretical or academic. The explanation of the history of prisons in America is crucial to her intent to prove that prisons are ineffective as rehabilitatory institutions and to explain what prisons have become today in lieu of that. Although many people originally considered the institution of prisons as a progressive step that would rehabilitate criminals, economic factors and racist motives quickly perverted the prison system into a loophole in the Thirteenth Amendment's prohibition against slavery. The need for cheap labor in the South after the Civil War prompted the creation of legislation geared towards incarcerating as many African-Americans as possible. These prisoners were subsequently leased out as cheap laborers. Professor Davis discusses this history of racism and economic oppression in Chapter Two of the book.

Professor Davis uses more recent history to explain how the prison system has given way to a prison industrial complex that exploits minority prisoners for economic gain in a different way. She very convincingly argues throughout Chapter Five that so-called "tough on crime" litigation and the rapid increase in the number of prisons during the past three decades is directly attributable to the economic interests of private prisons and other corporations from a wide range of industries. Although these portions of the book admittedly are intermittently peppered with Communist and Socialist phrasing, one need not embrace Communist economic thought to appreciate the value of Professor Davis's arguments. Indeed, it is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to find any type of premise assumed by Professor Davis that she does not thoroughly justify and support with facts.

A previous reviewer commented that other books would serve as a better introduction to the problems of the American prison system than "Are Prisons Obsolete?" because Professor Davis does not provide enough facts and statistics regarding these problems. Professor Davis does, in fact, devote two chapters of the book to the problems in prisons and the reform movement (including an entire chapter devoted to How Gender Structures the Prison System). But even without these facts, the value of Professor Davis's book is that it proposes a program of prison _abolition_ that should be pursued simultaneously with the prison reform movement. She lauds the work of prison reformers to end the epidemic of violence and sexual assault in prisons, to provide better educational and employment opportunities to prisoners, and to improve prison conditions generally, but she also points out that even if all these prison reforms could somehow be realized, the existence of any type of prison system would be unjust and ineffectual. In other words, although other books on the problems inherent in the prison system exist that are of equal importance, "Are Prisons Obsolete?" is a necessary addition to the academic literature on prisons in that it highlights problems that are tragically overlooked by the majority of prison reformers.

For the foregoing reasons, I would highly recommend Professor Davis's book to anyone who is interested or concerned about the state of American prisons and also to anyone concerned with race and gender problems in America.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Literature Working on the Prison System, April 11, 2007
This review is from: Are Prisons Obsolete? (Paperback)
Angela Davis talks about many different points in her book Are Prisons Obsolete? She tries to convince the audience that the current U.S. prison system is not run adequately. Davis questions the United States system of justice and the prison system that currently houses over two million people throughout the nation. In her book, she argues that prisons do not solve crime and that over the past twenty years the prison boom has not lowered crime rates across the country, but has intensified criminal behavior. The injustices within the current prison system, including institutionalized racism, gender inequalities, and class segregation are thoroughly explored in this book. She also debates whether a prison reform would be enough or prison abolition is necessary. This book is a great piece of literature that exposes readers with little to no knowledge about prisons to some cruel realities.

The book offers an overview of the history of prisons. Davis takes as an example California, a state which "landscape has thoroughly been prisonized over the last twenty years" (Davis, 12). This overview is extremely important to underline Davis' point that prisons have become ineffective as rehabilitatory institutions. Although, theoretically, the main purpose of a prison is to rehabilitate criminals, economic factors as well as racist motives, quickly drove the prison system to emulate a new way of slavery. As Davis says: "segregation ruled in the south until it was outlawed a century after the abolition of slavery. Many people who lived under Jim Crow could not envision a legal system defined by racial equality" (Davis, 23). The need for cheap labor in the south incited the spur of legislations that promoted the incarceration of as many African Americans as possible after the civil war. These prisoners, then, were leased out resulting in productive yet cheap laborers. Davis touches base with racism and economic oppression issues in chapter two of her book.

As evidence to help us understand the causes by which prisons started to proliferate when official studies showed that crime rate was going down (Davis, 85), Professor Davis uses the fact that "many corporations with global markets, now rely on prisons as an important source of profit" (Davis, 85). All the data compiled in chapter five of Davis' book is important to explain how the prison system has embodied a prison industrial complex that manipulates inmates' labor in exchange for economic gain. She attributes the so-called "tough on crime" legislation to private prisons and other corporations' interests. Although chapter five is bombards the reader with communist idealism, a communist mentality is not necessary to understand Davis' conclusions.

Even though not enough facts and statistics are given in the book with regards to the problem with the system, the book offers two chapters full of first hand information gathered by Davis. Nevertheless, the book's emphasis is on proposing a prison abolition program that should go hand and hand with the prison reform movement (Davis, 9-10). She is the voice of many prison reformers who have been trying to end violence and sexual abuse in prisons, provide prisoners with education so that their civil rights are not stripped away, and most importantly, work for prisons to be part of the solution and not another cause of problem.

In her last chapter, Professor Davis proposes, not so concrete ideas to adopt a completely different system or correction. This is the book's weakest chapter since it is too rhetorical and lacks solid proposals. She implies that the amount of knowledge and work necessary to make a solid change is in fact not very achievable by saying: "An abolitionist approach that seeks to answer questions such as these would require us to imagine a constellation of alternative strategies and institutions" (Davis107), referring to questions such as "how can we imagine a society in which punishment is not based on race and class?"(Davis107). Nonetheless her ideology and optimism opens many possibilities that could in fact be effective substitutes to incarceration.

It is for all these reasons that I recommend this book to everyone who is interested in knowing the hidden problems within the current U.S. prison system and the ongoing racial segregation issues. This book makes us think whether or not prisons are obsolete. Davis thinks they are.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SMART, CLEAR, WORTH THE READ, CRITICAL, November 1, 2013
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This review is from: Are Prisons Obsolete? (Paperback)
The average person in the USA likely thinks like I did for many decades. Prisons are for sociopaths, most deserve at least their sentence, and the death penalty is possible in some cases. Most of all was a certainty that I was not like the jailed. They were law breakers and I was a friend to many cops, sheriffs, troopers, and federal law enforcement.

Over years of doing prison work and being an expert witness jobs and experiencing sadist and criminal law enforcement harming others and that includes quality patients I have a few comments that make this book useful.

1) I believe in capital punishment, but NOT in the USA any longer until all aspects of corruption,money making, arrest rewards and stupidity is removed from the place between the scene of a crime to the execution. In those layers is dirt and trash--and as a believer in USA liberty we have fascist cops, lawyers, attorney generals naive as popcorn, and appeals judges in a space suit.

DEATH BY STATES WITH HIGHEST PRISON POPULATION ON EARTH, AND MORE PRISONS THAN PAST HUNDRED YEARS IN A DECADE IN SOME PLACES?

We have more inmates than the population of many countries.

WE HAVE DEATH PENALTY CASES WITH LESS EVIDENCE THAN HEBREW AND CHRISTIAN BIBLE REQUIREMENTS--MAKES FOR A SOBERING READ THAT THE JEWS WERE BETTER IN LAW THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO THAN THE USA. One needed witnesses and not circumstantial evidence. The witness was the executioner, not someone 300 miles away--this is merely one example.

2) IF YOU ARE A "CHILD" WHO HAS NEVER SEEN A COP LIE OR WRITE A CANNED REPORT MATCHING THE LAST 50, like I was childish and naive, please stop the stupid idealism of my 40's.

Some police are dear and loved friends, and some are freaking criminals who deserve jail. If that does not translate, you are not in touch with USA reality.

3) Be honest. Most do not care a dime about jailed people. It will never happen to me. Ha ha ha... We are all a cranky mad cop away from arrest--30 seconds.
And I do mean the well off, super educated and very pro-social like me. NO PASS FOR US ANYMORE--WE ARE HATED FOR EDUCATION, INTELLECT, SNOBBISHNESS--REAL OR IMAGINED AND OTHER REASONS.

4) Spend a day in a prison. You will never be the same. You will understand the bill of rights--they do not exist in prisons.

YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE A DAVIS CLONE TO LISTEN TO SMART POINTS! OR DO YOU FEAR OTHER TV OR RADIO STATIONS ALSO?

THAT IS ANTI-KNOWLEDGE, AND A DASH FASCIST.

In sum, she was right. We have gone from 20% of world inmates to 25%!!!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-Provoking, September 22, 2010
This review is from: Are Prisons Obsolete? (Paperback)
This is an excellent book that really makes you question the prison-industrial complex and how America has just 5% of the world's population but 25% of its prisoners. Davis points out many startling facts, such as while crime has been decreasing, incarcerations have been increasing, as well as how the number of jails and prisons being built in the past few decades has skyrocketed.

This is a great book, however, while Davis clearly points out the problems with America's prison system, she does not really name too many viable alternatives (besides decriminalizing certain things, such as drugs, for instance). I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is questioning the United States' distorted legal system that is designed to benefit corporations and harm individuals. While this book does not really present any viable alternative to prisons, it certainly explains how they are over-used, unjust, and corrupt institutions.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and extremely stimulating piece of work, April 27, 2014
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Dr. Davis is a theoretician who brings an activists passion to her work. It is most illuminating about the nature of relationships that society in general has with prisons.
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5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most important readings of our time, April 26, 2014
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This review is from: Are Prisons Obsolete? (Paperback)
Critically vital - the links and trajectory Davis spells out between slavery, capitalism, and prisons is one that people need to know about. This is an important book for the future of social and environmental justice.
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Are Prisons Obsolete?
Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Y. Davis (Paperback - April 2003)
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