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Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire

3.88  ·  Rating Details ·  187 Ratings  ·  36 Reviews
A vivid history of America’s biggest, baddest prison system and how it came to lead the nation’s punitive revolution

In the prison business, all roads lead to Texas. The most locked-down state in the nation has led the way in criminal justice severity, from assembly-line executions to isolation supermaxes, from prison privatization to sentencing juveniles as adults. Texas T
Hardcover, 496 pages
Published March 16th 2010 by Metropolitan Books (first published 2010)
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Robert Perkinson
May 13, 2010 Robert Perkinson rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
I wrote this book, and I learned quite a lot in the process.
Mar 03, 2014 Mike rated it really liked it
After spending three weeks in a courtroom, and watching our criminal justice system in action, I've become very interested, almost obsessively, in that system. In particular, something happened in 1970 or so, and the prison population, mostly African Americans, has quadrupled since that date, after staying pretty much flat for many decades. I wanted to read (and still will) "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness" but this book came across my desk first. It is, essenti ...more
Sep 25, 2010 Lewis rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed the history, but felt the arguments for why the South was at the forefront of the prison movement became a little thin.
Patty Templeton
Jan 14, 2012 Patty Templeton rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
OI! What a GD terrifying doorstopper. A fourth of it's weight is from the notes section and it took ten years of research to write. Robert Perkinson outlines the two beginnings of the American prison system: reformation and retribution - and retribution has out-paced its rival from the beginning. It's always been cheaper to a cage a person than to teach them.

Perkinson focuses on the Texas prison system because it's the nation's largest and it set the tone of penitentiaries from the Emancipation
Kalem Wright
May 16, 2014 Kalem Wright rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
3.5/5. Texas Tough is a thoroughly detailed and well-argued work overall. It gives readers a glimpse into competing social visions for the role of prisons in America and their evolution over time. Perkinson demonstrates how Texas’s iterations were founded initially on notions of plantation labor and inherent racial difference and later on states’ rights resulting in profit and power for those who held the keys. Perkinson does a wonderful job of illustrating what he calls the prison’s “corrosive ...more
Will Corvin
Apr 18, 2015 Will Corvin rated it really liked it
An exhaustingly comprehensive account of the many transformations of Texas's penal system. Does a great job of depicting convict conditions under each regime, and also of the political and economic considerations that propelled Texas officials toward rehabilitation then back toward punishment. I found it hard to keep track of all the individual people, and thought the ending comparison about Bush's War on Terror was a weak connection.
May 07, 2016 Sue rated it it was ok
Shelves: crimen
Blech . . . bleeding-heart book whining about the fact that TX doesn't "play" in a nation that supersedes the rest of the world when it comes to lock-down and capital punishment.

Yea, well, in other countries they just KILL 'EM DEAD. Incarceration is big business--for everyone involved.
Buffy Weill-greenberg
Jul 07, 2010 Buffy Weill-greenberg rated it it was amazing
Phenomenal book. If you only read one book about the us criminal justice system, read this one.
Jul 13, 2010 Angela rated it liked it
Recommended to Angela by: concurring opinions
A thorough, diligently-researched, thought-provoking book that anyone interested in human rights, civil rights, public policy or prison reform should read, Texas Tough details the history of the Texas prison system and its spreading influence in the last half of the 20th century. Perkinson explores the racial disparities and inequalities of the penal system from its early days as a profitable forced-labor stepchild of slavery to more recent increases in racial disparities among prison population ...more
Jason Browning
Sep 07, 2015 Jason Browning rated it it was ok
I was eager for this book to arrive so that I could learn more about the history of the prison system, particularly in Texas; unfortunately, my eagerness for this tedious, plodding book to end far surpassed this initial anticipation.

Prepare yourself for a heavy helping of the word “sanguine” (sometimes spiced up a bit, with “sanguinity”); other than this repetition, the author writes as though he held his notes in one hand and a thesaurus in another. The sentences and paragraphs throughout this
Nov 02, 2013 Ryan rated it really liked it
the history of the last 170 years through the lens of the american (mostly texan) penal sytem. i did not know that prisons as we know them today are a relatively new phenomenon, and i did not know how horrific they were for inmates through much of that history.

prisons undoubtedly keep some dangerous people off the street. prisons undoubtedly deter some people from committing some crimes. i have oftentimes let people live only because the consequences are unsavory to me.

but such an unwieldy, cost
Nov 21, 2010 Lisa rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010
This is a fascinating book and perspective on Texas history, race relations, and incarceration philosophy. Heavily researched, it paints a pretty bleak picture about the futility of expecting prisons to have any sort of salutory effect for the prisoners themselves. The case he lays out is the argument for the conclusion; nonetheless, the conclusion seems like it could have been more strongly stated in the last few pages. But that is a minor issue in the overall scheme of things.

My main suggestio
Oct 27, 2013 Meagen rated it liked it
Shelves: social-science
I picked up this book because I'm interested in American prison policy. This wasn't exactly what I was looking for--it's more historical and dry than I'd hoped--but it's very well researched. I got about 1/3 of the way through before I put it down but feel like I learned a tremendous amount about the legacy of slavery in the South, the connection between the "tough on crime" movement and civil rights, and the prison industry. I went into the book thinking I didn't know enough about prisons in Am ...more
Alexander Veee
"Despite the historic victories of the civil rights movement -- culminating with the election of the country's first black president in 2008 -- the criminal justice patterns set during slavery and segregration have not faded away. Rather, according to key statistical indicators on crime, arrest, conviction, imprisonment, and release, the United States is dispensing less equitable justice today than it was a generation ago. Even as segregationist barriers to equal opportunity and achievement have ...more
Laura Pollard
This book was incredibly interesting. Living in Texas, I had no idea just how much of an impact our criminal justice system had on the rest of the country. My one issue with the book is how it was written. At times, the writer could go on about things that didn't really seem to matter. He spent a good 20 pages on a folk singer that was in a Texas prison for a while (I may be exaggerating, but that's really how long it felt). Also, he is not a very concise writer. He would take 10 pages to say wh ...more
Dec 15, 2011 Anne rated it really liked it
Although the thesis gets a bit thin by the end (saying that the Texas penal system is responsible for Abu Ghraib? Ehhh...) it's really a fascinating look at a system very few know people know much about, except for those who have had the misfortune to experience it firsthand. The history and historical politics are really interesting, and makes me think that not a lot has changed. That liberal and punitive policies come in cycles, and that Texan culture has always been vengeful and domineering. ...more
Jul 07, 2012 Jett rated it it was amazing
Some scary shit! Our country today has a higher percentage of its population incarcerated than almost any other in the history of humanity. Perhaps one reason this is so is that few on "the outside" really know what it means to be imprisoned in America in the 21st century. If you want a little glimpse "inside", read this book . . . and then ask yourself if anyone really deserves this fate for something like marijuana possession.
Dec 06, 2012 Ice rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, favorites
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Keith Rada
Jun 23, 2016 Keith Rada rated it it was ok
A very interesting, important, and compelling subject, which the author has exhaustively researched. I expected a more forceful argument: mostly it's a sea of excessive, poorly organized detail; a narrative chronicle of Texas prison history, that lost me halfway through. I expect the second half would have finally began to draw conclusions on the relevance of Texas' prison history to today's moral nightmare of mass incarceration, but I decided to move on to other books in my reading list.
Catherine Austen
Jul 24, 2011 Catherine Austen rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
One of those books I repeatedly renewed from the library and then had to buy just to have one hand, because I know I'm going to forget most of it and have to reread in a couple of years. I've dog-eared almost every page to mark the bits worth reading twice. It's more than a look at Texan prisons; it's a rich history of the U.S. from slavery through to the present day. Disturbing, well-researched, well-written. Great book.
May 26, 2010 Qwerty rated it liked it
I was hoping this would be more about the modern prison system, in particular the growth in incarceration and mandatory minimum sentences beginning in the 1980's. The book is mostly about the history of the prison system in Texas, especially the "convict leasing" system beginning after the Civil War. Not a bad read, but not really what I was looking for.
Audacia Ray
Oct 27, 2011 Audacia Ray rated it really liked it
Shelves: prisons, read-in-2011
I had to take a break from reading this book because it was so intensely depressing (which is saying a lot, because I read a lot of challenging stuff).

If you don't understand how the prison industrial complex is in many ways a continuation of the practice of slavery, this is the book to read. Really fascinating history, really dark stuff.
Nov 21, 2010 Eric rated it it was amazing
This is a very timely read as the next session of the Texas Legislature will have to figure out how to close a $24 BILLION budget gap. Now that we've managed to lock up so many people for so long, one wonders how this can continue. Texas Tough tells us how we got here. Prisons have become such a big part of the state budget that I think all citizens should read this book.
Leroi Mora
May 21, 2014 Leroi Mora rated it really liked it
Very good book on the history of the prison system in the United States, with special emphasis on Texas. This book will give you the background on the injustice and the cruelties that made the prison system what it is today. Very well researched and well written.
Dec 01, 2014 Patty rated it it was amazing
Shelves: black-history
I found this the most frightening book I've ever read. From the formation of our country to the present, this book shows you the extremely ugly under-belly of our prison system. Slavery is, indeed, alive and well...
Kathi Jackson
Sep 16, 2015 Kathi Jackson rated it liked it
I didn't finish this because it's quite lengthy. Although well written, it's about Texas and slavery from when Texas became a republic and about all the changes made to the prison system. I gave up on it.
Aug 14, 2011 Kerry rated it liked it
Shelves: crime
This should have been a great book -the author writes beautifully and the subject is interesting. However, I found it way too dense and too long on history and context for my tastes. I ended up skipping pages thinking "enough already, I get it."
Aug 06, 2016 Andy added it
Compelling and informative book about how the south's and particularly Texas' prison system have influenced criminal justice in the US.
Nov 23, 2010 Tiffany is currently reading it
So far, extremely interesting! Summary of the first 1/4th: The Texas prison system has its roots in slavery.
Jan 15, 2014 Denali marked it as incomplete
This was an amazing book but even after renewing it I couldnt bring myself to pick it up day after day and read about prisons.
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