Imagine a prison built "not because it was needed but because it was wanted--by politicians who thought it would bring them votes, by voters who hoped it would bring them jobs, and by a corrections establishment that no longer believed in correction." In exploring America's prison system--a system that holds more inmates than any other country in the world--Joseph Hallinan discovered that crime was big business. Further, he writes, "Few people complain. Prisons are tremendous public works projects, throwing off money as a wet dog throws off water."
In Going up the River, Hallinan comprehensively chronicles America's prisons, investigating how prison authority has passed from hard-nosed wardens to the federal court system, a change that simultaneously improved the treatment of prisoners while making inmate rehabilitation and safety more difficult to attain. He also addresses the prison boom: facilities quickly built for economic reasons, resulting in poor prison conditions and a system "so lucrative its founders have become rich men." This immense financial gain is ironically juxtaposed with the fact that most people view prisons as a terrible waste of money.
Hallinan also relays the stories of current wardens, guards, inmates, and even townspeople living in the shadow of a prison. He also focuses on the many challenges prisoners face, including gangs, fighting, and rape, as well as the sensitivity of controversial issues such as conjugal visits. The book makes obvious that America's prison system is in disarray, though neither the source nor the solution can be easily isolated. Hallinan does not offer answers or personal opinions; instead, he presents all angles and leaves the reader to consideration. --Jacque Holthusen
From Publishers Weekly
If crime rates are dropping, why is the number of prisons growing rapidly? What are the cause and implications of the "prison boom"? Hallinan, winner of a Pulitzer Prize and Harvard's prestigious Nieman Fellowship, delivers a clear-eyed, sleekly written and deeply disturbing tour of the privatized prison landscape of America circa 2000, with a welcome (if unnerving) focus on the human aspect of maximum incarceration. "The merger of punishment and profit [is] reshaping this country," he argues. Beginning with Texas ("Texas is to the prison culture of the 1990s what California was to the youth culture of the 1960s"), Hallinan details the cold calculation that fosters anticrime hysteria and the competition among postindustrial, "job-hungry" regions for a piece of the boom or "prison-industrial complex" by offering perks like tax abatements and job training. While he draws sympathetic portraits of mild-mannered wardens and ordinary folks attracted to the high pay of corrections work, he also shows how some have been transformed--not for the better--by this work. Hallinan proposes that punitive mandatory minimum sentencing and federal prosecutorial zeal inflate penal and police spending and that the post-Reagan privatization of prisons by a small group of powerful corporations has led to harsh "unintended circumstances" ranging from escapes, to the brutalization of nonviolent offenders, to inmate deaths resulting from medical negligence. Hallinan's documentation of malfeasance exposes the persistent erosion of important aspects of the country's social contract. This essential portrait of the current state of American justice continues a line of analyses pursued by other authors such as Christian Parenti in Lockdown America. Agent, Jane Dystel. (Mar. 20)Forecast: The national obsession with crime as well as Hallinan's sterling reputation will guarantee review coverage for this title, and a five-city author tour will further draw attention to his controversial argument.
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