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Inner Lives: Voices of African American Women In Prison [Paperback]

Paula Johnson , Angela J. Davis , Joyce A. Logan
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 1, 2004 0814742556 978-0814742556

The rate of women entering prison has increased nearly 400 percent since 1980, with African American women constituting the largest percentage of this population. However, despite their extremely disproportional representation in correctional institutions, little attention has been paid to their experiences within the criminal justice system.

Inner Lives provides readers the rare opportunity to intimately connect with African American women prisoners. By presenting the women's stories in their own voices, Paula C. Johnson captures the reality of those who are in the system, and those who are working to help them. Johnson offers a nuanced and compelling portrait of this fastest-growing prison population by blending legal history, ethnography, sociology, and criminology. These striking and vivid narratives are accompanied by equally compelling arguments by Johnson on how to reform our nation's laws and social policies, in order to eradicate existing inequalities. Her thorough and insightful analysis of the historical and legal background of contemporary criminal law doctrine, sentencing theories, and correctional policies sets the stage for understanding the current system.

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Johnson, a law professor, offers a look at the lives of women who have been rendered virtually invisible by their race, sex, and incarceration, noting that two-thirds of new inmates are black women. Johnson begins with a historical overview and analysis of criminal law and sentencing reform with the rise in the U.S. prison population and closes with recommendations for reform. But the most compelling part of the book is the middle section, which includes interviews with women who are or have been incarcerated. By including photographs, Johnson gives these women visibility and voice as they relate their lives, their crimes, and their efforts to remain connected to families and communities. This is a powerful look at the forces that drove these women to crime--most murdered abusive husbands and boyfriends or committed drug-related offenses--as well as their efforts to maintain ties to their children and their growing self-awareness. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“Johnson gives these women visibility and voice as they relate their lives, their crimes, and their efforts to remain connected to families and communities . . . powerful.”


“Johnson’s Inner Lives provides both a serious intervention in the literature on prisons and a venue through which incarcerated and formerly incarcerated Black women can speak for themselves. It challenges readers to take action.”
-Black Renaissance


Inner Lives soars when the women are allowed to speak for themselves.”


“Johnson illuminates how the race and gender of African American women affect how they are treated in the American criminal justice system.”
-The Women’s Review of Books”

“Johnson provides a historical look at African American women in the U.S. criminal justice system from the colonial period to the present.”
-Law's Social Inquiry


Product Details

  • Paperback: 356 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press (March 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814742556
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814742556
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,620,294 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A start to coverage of a much needed topic February 20, 2007
While this like other books is not perfect, the authors begin to try to address the shortage of information on women in the criminal justice system, especially in the prison system. In particular, the authors provide attention to women of color, who like their male counterparts, comprise the majority of those in prison. As a criminology and sociology professor at a private Jesuit university, this book is very beneficial for getting my students to think outside the box and begin critical discourse on the topic. Most women, like most men, are not in prison for violent crimes. They are incarcerated for non-violent crimes, most of which involve drugs. furthermore, they are more likely than men to be incarcerated for drug offenses, and this has been a major contributing factor to their increasing incarceration rates, which are occuring at a faster and higher rate than men overall. In fact, in the federal system, around 40% of all offenders are incarcerated for drugs. While not all women who offend have been victimized, most have some history of adult and/or childhood victimization, which this book attempts to address. Unfortunately, given the non-violent nature of the crimes that most women commit, they continue to be ignored or provided only marginal attention in the criminological field. Women of color are even more marginalized in the literature, though this is beginning to change. This book is a good start to getting people to begin addressing these issues. The authors make no pretense about being neutral, which may concern some readers focused on academic rigor. however, the framework for the book does not take away from its contributions, even if they are not flawless. Nothing ever is.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent book July 19, 2008
wonderful insight into the lives of african american women in prison. A definite read!
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2 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Weak academically and otherwise August 17, 2005
Professor Johnson gives the total victim typology a full-out book-length workout. Every excuse for the women she cites comitting crimes is dredged out and covered weakly with academic gloss. Most women are in prison for violent, not non-violent crimes, which invalidates many of her arguments for them as primarily society's victims (as prostitutes, drug addicts etc.) A lower % of African-American women are in prison than African-American men, which she fails to cite, and also fails to butress her points. The whinier of the voices she quotes also grates after a while.
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