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Perpetual Prisoner Machine: How America Profits From Crime Paperback – December 8, 2000


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Perpetual Prisoner Machine: How America Profits From Crime + Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money from Mass Incarceration + The New Jim Crow:  Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (December 8, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813338700
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813338705
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,002,830 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This is a disturbing treatise on an Orwellian component of contemporary capitalism: the free-market takeover of the American corrections system. In the 1980s, Dyer argues, we were told that prison spending had to go up because the crime rate was going up. In the '90s, we've been told we have to spend more on prisons because the crime rate is going down, i.e., spending money works. Those with vested interests, he says, have further told the public that privatized prisons are tax-efficient boons to deindustrialized areas. Dyer provides a plausible argument that violent crime rates over the last 20 years have not fluctuated as dramatically (either up or down) as FBI statistics indicate, and that the bulk of the growth of the prison system is disproportionate to the change in the crime rate. Disproportionately growing numbers of prisoners have been nonviolent criminals, usually caught up in the war on drugs. One of Dyer's innovative observations is the "prisonization" effect: that the extreme brutality of our prison culture virtually guarantees recidivism. This is exacerbated, he argues, by prison privatization: referring to various incidents in the prisons in Colorado, Texas, New Jersey and elsewhere run by Correction Corporation of America and by Wackenhut, Dyer (Harvest of Rage) documents how the cost-cutting drive to please shareholders quickly results in negligence, danger, violence, escapes and a general air of brutalization (he finds particularly heinous the policy of randomly mixing violent and nonviolent offenders). Thus, prison has "hidden costs" to society, which Dyer illuminates. He notes that, because of the growing reliance of the "prison boom" on corporations with a bottom-line mentality, it will soon be too late to turn back the policies of extreme incarceration. Dyer supplements meticulous research with argumentative anger and verve to make a strong case that what has been called the "prison-industrial complex" is preying on largely minority and underclass segments of our society. (Jan.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

An indictment of our decision to incarcerate an ever-increasing number of our citizens. According to journalist Dyer (Harvest of Rage, 1997), the lock em up mentality loose in the land is attributable to the prison industrial complex, which he identifies as law-enforcement bureaucrats and private enterprises that profit from our recent prison-building boom. And what a boom its been: The US now imprisons more of its citizens than China or Russiaquite a feat given our smaller population and penchant for thinking of ourselves as more enlightened in matters of criminal justice than either of our Cold War adversaries. In the face of this trend, Dyer asks a simple question: How can the American public possibly believe that locking up so many people makes sense? His answer is equally simple: capitalism. Those profiting from the criminal-justice business have duped the public in the same way that the military-industrial complex led it to accept that vast public outlays were necessary to win the Cold War. While Americans are less at risk of becoming crime victims than they were 20 years ago, public- opinion polls show theyre convinced its just the opposite. Dyer lays much of the blame for this misconception at the feet of the media. Television programs and the nightly news highlight violent acts with alarming regularity, not to inform the public but to boost advertising revenues. Meanwhile, companies that seek a piece of the ever-increasing public money allocated for prisons lobby politicians, who advance their own careers by catering to voters misplaced fear of crime. In Dyers judgment, this combo of circumstances virtually guarantees the perpetuation of a massive falsehood: that ever more prisons are needed. While many of Dyers views are controversial, he provides an ideal place to begin looking at the issue of why most states spend more money building prisons than schools. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Here are a few of my career highlights to date.
As a journalist and author, my work has appeared in New York Times Sunday Magazine, Vanity Fair, U.S.News & World Report, Mother Jones, Utne Reader and numerous other publications and websites.
My original reporting has put me in front of the camera on such programs as Today Show, Good Morning America, Fox News (Bill O'Reilly), 48 Hours, Nightline, ABC/NBC/CBS Nightly News, and The Editors.
I've worked with Gore Vidal at his request on a number of projects including two of his pieces on domestic terrorism and Timothy McVeigh for Vanity Fair.
My investigative reporting on the Oklahoma City bombing resulted in my being called to testify before the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism in 1996.
I was a featured speaker at the 1997 national conference for Investigative Reporters and Editors.
I have won a fair number national, regional and statewide journalism awards.
Between 1998 and 2002 I was both on-air commentator and head scriptwriter for World Affairs Television including The Editors, Canada's top rated political program hosted by Dateline NBC's Keith Morrison.
In addition I have written two screenplays including one with actor Peter Coyote.
I've written a couple of books, Harvest Of Rage: Why Oklahoma City Is Only The Beginning and Perpetual Prisoner Machine Machine: How America Profits From Crime.
Some really great people have said some really nice things about my books. Here's a few examples.

"This is a startling book. It is an important book. It is one which Americans must read if they want to understand why there is increasing suicide and murder coming out of the farm country and how we might deal with the causes."
-- Howard Zinn

"It's so important that Americans understand the anger that fuels militias and drives good citizens to suicidal and murderous acts of desperation. Joel Dyer illuminates the terrible anguish of men and women whose farms are threatened with foreclosure and, without excusing their behavior, explains it with compassion. But the greatest value of this book is in the forewarning it provides to destitute family farmers, about the hate-mongering opportunists who wait to prey on their shattered souls."
-- Mark Dowie, Former publisher and editor of Mother Jones
"The power elites who rule from Washington and Wall Street seem clueless that their actions produce reactions--that family farmers, inner-city youth, Vietnam and Gulf War veterans, downsized workers, and all the others who are being kicked out and stepped on by today's powers that be eventually will kick back. Joel Dyer, a fine reporter and writer, puts flesh and blood to this harsh political reality in Harvest of Rage. It is a true and gripping story--and the rage is growing."
-- Jim Hightower, Former Texas Secretary of Agriculture

"This is one of the most important books about the state of this nation that has come along in years. The fact that we have become the new Soviet Union, the new South Africa, when it comes to incarcerating our own citizens is perhaps our most shameful accomplishment of the past decade. The brilliance of Joel Dyer's book is that he just doesn't state that sad and compelling fact, he gives us the why behind it--how politicians, lawyers, and corporations have profited by frightening the public into believing that we must lock up as many people as possible."
-- Michael Moore, Filmmaker, "Roger & Me," "The Big One" and a bunch of others

"The Perpetual Prisoner Machine is a bold and deep-probing analysis of our criminal justice system. It raises serious questions about crime and punishment which reflect not just on our prisons, but on our profit-driven society."
-- Howard Zinn

When I wasn't writing books and articles you could have found me here:
Editor of Boulder Weekly, 1993-1997
Publisher of Fort Collins Weekly, 2002-2007
Publisher of New Ventures, Swift Communications, 2007-2009
Consultant for New Media, Swift Communications, 2009-2011
Editor of Boulder Weekly, 2011 to present

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Glenn H. Reynolds on July 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Dyer is rather a leftist, and I'm more of a libertarian, but on this subject we see eye to eye. The politicians, corrections industry, and opinion pollsters have formed an "Iron Triangle" in support of ever more incarceration. In particular, large numbers of nonviolent offenders are being locked up for no good reason at all. (The resulting clog tends to make it harder to put away those who really belong behind bars, too.) The really bad consequences of this (millions of people with grudges against society, learning a lot about violence) have yet to really be visited upon our society. But they probably will be, and it won't be the politicians and lobbyists who pay the price.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By D. Horne on January 30, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Joel Dyer has done an excellent job of nailing how Congress has abused the issue of crime in America and why we allow it. He's also provided an excellent argument for abandoning the private prison industrial complex and ceasing the attack on urban America and the mentally ill. As someone who works in business and in finance, it bugged my eyeballs when I realized what government is doing, allowing prisoners for profit. I've worked 32 years in a profit driven capacity and doing this with human beings, given what I know about shareholder driven environments, is unconscionable in my mind. To intentionally profit from another's pain and misfortune is heinous. America has 5% of the world's population and 25% of the worlds prisoners. We have over 1,000 prisons and 7 million people under penal control (2004). Over half of them non-violent offenders whose crime involves consenting adults (ie: life in prison for introducing a buyer to a seller of home grown pot in Indiana) or petty thievery (ie: stealing vitamins in California).
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on August 11, 2001
Format: Paperback
Journalist Joel Dyer creates an informative, critical, and iconoclastic survey of the United States' criminal justice system in The Perpetual Prisoner Machine: How America Profits From Crime. Dyer persuasively argues that contemporary criminal "justice" is disastrously impacted by violent media content, a push for privatization; an increasing dependence of politicians upon public opinion polling and campaign finance. This has all resulted in an explosion in the American prison population. The rapidly increasing numbers of prisoners, parolees and probationers is not the result of increasing crime rates, but because sectors of the American economy and political power structure find mass incarcerations to be profitable. The Perpetual Prisoner Machine is very strongly recommended reading for students of the American criminal justice system, prisoner reform movement supporters, sociologists, cultural anthropologists, and political science students.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By B. Armsterd on April 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The sad tragedy of this book's thesis is this: Any politician who brings up the senselessness of our current criminal justice system commits political suicide. The book exposes a big secret: violent crime is down, but media coverage of violence that is up! We've doubled prison terms and quadrupled the prison population to fight a phantom war on crime.
Very well done, heartily recommenced.
Would have been five stars, but in places he does make annoying asides about violence (and God knows why, sex) in entertainment.
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