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American Furies: Crime, Punishment, and Vengeance in the Age of Mass Imprisonment Hardcover – May 2, 2007

4.7 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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From Publishers Weekly

There's no doubt about where journalist Abramsky's fury is directed: at the contemporary U.S. penal system, which he criticizes for jettisoning any thoughts of rehabilitation in favor of increasingly harsh punishment, and which he sees as a reflection of America's violent culture. Few would find much to argue with as Abramsky depicts the recent growth of, and violence in, American prisons; he presents alarming statistics on the rise in government spending on punishment in the past 25 years, even as a "less government is more" ethos has ruled. He's also highly critical of mandatory sentencing laws. As he and others have pointed out, law and order wins political races, and jails provide jobs in places where industry has dried up. Abramsky (Hard Time Blues: How Politics Built a Prison Nation) has long written about this issue, and the book displays a lot of on-the-ground reportage with prisoners, corrections officials and scholars. His suggestions for returning to rehabilitation could be more specific, but this remains a well-researched book on a significant American problem that's often locked away behind bars. (May)
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“a well-researched book on a significant American problem that's often locked away behind bars.” Publishers Weekly

“Sasha Abramsky uses painstaking research, anecdotal evidence from inmates and tours of penal hellholes across the land to lock in American Furies.” —Sacramento News and Review

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; Complete Numbers Starting with 1, 1st Ed edition (May 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807042226
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807042229
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,522,080 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
"When the annals of our era are written, the United States will... come to be defined as a prison state." Not to spoil the ending, but this is the last, haunting sentence of American Furies, Sasha Abramsky's scathing indictment of the U.S. prison system. If you still believe that America is a just democracy where everyone is treated equal, then you really have to read this book. I found myself laughing aloud in sour irony recently as President Bush commuted Scooter Libby's prison term because he felt that the thirty month sentence was "excessive." Tell that to Dan Johnson, an inmate that Abramsky profiles who is currently serving a twenty-eight years to life sentence for possession of a small amount of cocaine, his "third strike" drug offense in California.

I worked in womens' prisons and juvenile corrections institutions for six years and still found my jaw dropping at the absurdities and horrors described in this nightmare of a book. Whether describing female chain gangs in Arizona, the capitalistic rise of private prisons or the inhuman and torturous conditions in maximum security units, Abramsky conjures the human stories behind the headlines. He contextualizes the present prison crisis by outlining the history of incarceration in the U.S., beginning with the 18th century's silent prisons, through the rehabilitation movements of the 1960s and '70s and then the tough-on-crime backlash of the 1980s through today.

His statistics are damning: In some communities, more young men go to prison than go to college; the U.S. spends more money on criminal justice than on higher education; the U.S. incarcerates more people than any other industrialized nation; and on and on.
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Format: Hardcover
I was motivated to read this book after author Abramsky read a searing description of women on an Arizona chain gang. In some ways, I wish he hadn't. It's hard to forget the image: women chained together, forced to carry out body functions in humiliating circumstances, burying paupers while a clergyman blesses them for doing good work.

Abramsky presents images like these throughout the book, based on a series of visits to American prisons. In clear but understated prose, he describes the trends that led to our present condition: somewhere between 1% and 2% of Americans are behind bars. Many are juveniles who are housed in adult prisons. These prisoners are subject to many of the same abuse that led to convictions among 11 enlisted soldiers. I believe Charles Graner had worked in prisons before going on active duty.

On page 175, Abramsky writes, "Can a country's democratic institutions survive when the primary emotion underlying so much of its social policy, and determining the allocation of a sizable proportion of its annual revenues, is revenge?...We will in short become a community in name only, an increasingly atomized continent in which the primary role of government is to instill fear of the law rather than respect for its integrity."

When you consider everything from overzealous security guards to Michael Nifong, I think we're already there.
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Format: Paperback
Sasha Abramsky's book, American Furies,is a great addition to the existing literature about incarceration, crime and punishment in modern America, and positions itself as a valuable work, next to the books of Elliot Currie, Bruce Western, and Michael Jacobson. Abramsky, a researcher and a writer for a substantial period of time, approaches the problem of the Prison Boom from a simple perspective of a human being with an open heart. American Furies is an interesting book, fluently written and easy to read,that does not includes either tables or charts. The statistic data is used only to illustrate, or support author's ideas and theories, and not to attack, or annoy the reader.
The main idea of the book is concentrated on the last page:" The stakes are high. In play are the United States' sense of self and historical identity. Like a metastasized cancer, America's incarceration infrastructure - not only its domestic prisons and jails, but its growing web of overseas prisoner-of-war camps and secret facilities for holding terrorism suspects - has started to eat away the country's democratic institutions from the inside out" (178).
American Furies delivers colorful pictures about the inside of the America's prisons, cites interviews with prisoners and prison guards, and stresses the necessity of an individual approach to law breaker's and necessity to give more power to state and local institutions. Author's greatest concerns are:the lack of medical care for prisoners with mental problems and the lack of rehabilitation and education for all prisoners. It creates a revolving door system, where inmates after release from prison are doomed to return to the life of crime. Abramsky demonstrates, how the mass incarceration affects families,neighborhoods and destroys the future of juvenile offenders.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very good book, in detail about how our system is not functioning. How we can change things, and what things can be done to correct the problem.
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