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Going Up the River: Travels in a Prison Nation Hardcover – March 20, 2001

4.3 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (March 20, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375502637
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375502637
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,511,340 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Alan Mills VINE VOICE on May 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Over the last 20 years, America's prison population has exploded. We now incarcerate about 2 million people--a higher rate than any other country in the world. Mr. Hallinan takes us on a tour of the prisons that hold this growing population...and serves up a unique view point.
When readcing Going Up the River, one must remember that the author works for the Wall Steet Journal. With this "day job" it is not surprising that Mr. Hallinan delves into a side of the prison boom not often examined: the costs, who pays them, and who profits?
Everyone seems to admit that prisons do not rehabilitate anyone. They are so large, so poorly funded, and so violent, that the only realistic goal of either the prisoners or the gourds is to come out alive. As Mr. Hallinan says, anything beyond survival is clearly a luxury in today's prisons.
So, if prisons are not doing their job, then why are they so popular?
Mr. Hallinan's answer is that the prison boom has been accompanied by (or was caused by?) a redefinition of the very concept of a prison. No longer viewed as a place to incarcerate and reform or rehabilitate, prisons are now viewed as a source of economic development, jobs, and patronage.
His story of the building of Tamms--Illinois Supermax--is illustrative. Built in a small, impoverished, southern Illinois town approximately 365 miles from Chicago, the prison was expected to be an economic engine. As it was being built, the local housing market exploded, restaurants opened, etc. At the same time, the county--which had gone democratic in state-wide races for decades, voted republican 2-1 after the Republican governor announced the new prison.
What the author missed is the end of the story.
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Format: Hardcover
Most readers might not believe that they would wish to learn about our prison, assuming they already 'know' what the scoop is. As revealed in Hallinan's brilliant and thorough perspective on the state of our prisons, they have almost lost any genuine attempts to rehabilitate and now are simply focused on making prisons profitable. As Hallinan states, our country has now developed our prisons into a "prison-industrial complex" to the detriment of our society in general.
The most startling revelations come with his descriptions of a new breed of prisons being built called 'super-Maxes.' They are built in small towns around the country to help their economy with totally dreadful and degrading cell arrangements for the prisoners. One does not need to be a so-called bleeding-heart to be concerned that, due to the use of extensive solitary confinement in very small cells, prisoners are turned into psychotic animals. As Hallinan stated in an interview on NPR, these are prisoners who will eventually be released in far worse psychological shape than upon entering. If they were a menace to society before entering, these prisons are assuring that they will be far more dangerous upon release.
Hallinan is a pulitizer prize winner and a regular writer for the Wall Street Journal. When reading this book, it's clear that he has no political agenda or bias. He simply provides a clear-eyed and thorough perspective on our prisons. As the LA Times stated, every elected official in our country should read this book, though they probably won't. We can only hope that a sufficient number of citizens do as the conditions described in "Going Up the River" are ones any person with any sense of decency and compassion will find intolerable. A must read.
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Format: Hardcover
One in four African-American men, one in six Hispanic men, and one in ten white men will go to prison in their lifetime. The severity of drug sentences is only surpassed by murder. The prison industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. This book delves into how this happened. It doesn't take on a simplistic "how to solve this problem" answer. It doesn't even try. Hallinan does, however, inform you of the facts of the prison system of America. He keeps his book localized, rarely comparing our system to other country's prisons. As a seventeen-year-old, my parents often questioned why I would read such a book. I read it because the content of this book is rarely discussed in the media - outside of the dry statistics, such as current prison population (1.3 million), reported every now and then. Hallinan, exposes not just the how and why we reached such an atrocious number, but also why it is important financially for us to keep the prison population growing.
The violence of the inmates, the incompetence of the guards, the overcrowding, and the racial imbalance are not really new facts - but the financial aspect was unknown to me. I didn't even realize that private prisons, essentially prison hotels, exist in the way that they do.
The different forms of rehabilitation efforts, and the current lack of, were fascinating.
Hallinan does form opinions, and he doesn't remain unbiased. This more an editorial than anything else. But, he does report many sides of the issue. Bipartisanship doesn't exist anyway, and it would be misleading to pose something in that manner - which Hallinan doesn't. This is an important read, and it should be done by anyone who wants to comment on the current state of the prison system.
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