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Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California

4.37  ·  Rating details ·  639 ratings  ·  55 reviews
Since 1980, the number of people in U.S. prisons has increased more than 450%. Despite a crime rate that has been falling steadily for decades, California has led the way in this explosion, with what a state analyst called “the biggest prison building project in the history of the world.” Golden Gulag provides the first detailed explanation for that buildup by looking at h ...more
Paperback, 388 pages
Published January 8th 2007 by University of California Press (first published January 1st 2006)
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Alok Vaid-Menon
Oct 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a must for anyone interested in contextualizing the crisis of (mass) incarceration. Gilmore seamlessly integrates geography, political economy, and a deep study of anti-Black racism to present how states do race as a way to manage populations. Gilmore has been a leading light in abolitionist movements because of this precise and trenchant critique of what race actually is. In so many ways she provides the grammar, the very foundation which has been so helpful in articulating contemporary ...more
Dec 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is written by an activist trying to answer questions asked by mothers fighting for the lives of their children in prison, and grappling with the theory behind her work, so you know I loved it. I found it quite challenging though, and I'm still thinking about how she frames the political economy of prisons and how that intersects with race.

In a nutshell, she argues that "...prisons are partial geographical solutions to political economic crises, organized by the state, which is itself in cr
Katie/Doing Dewey
Aug 17, 2020 rated it it was ok
Summary: Included some interesting info, but it was dense and didn't answer the main question it addressed.

I've been working through an online class to learn about the prison abolition movement and it includes several interviews with author Ruth Wilson Gilmore. That's what led me to this academic nonfiction work of hers, which purports to explain the origins of the extensive California prison system. Unfortunately, while this book included some fascinating information, I think it failed in that
Aug 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: prisons-police
The approach that Gilmore takes to analysing the expansion of California’s prison system centres on the political economy - most especially on the pivotal moments of surplus and crisis. She draws beautifully on cultural geography to describe the prison boom in the “golden state” over the past three decades; which has created an "archipelago" of prisons. Gilmore depicts surplus state power and surplus populations (most especially people of color and poor white people) as the making of a crisis to ...more
Jan 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I wish this book got more hype as a historical materialist study of prisons. More abolition as a question of political economy plz
Aug 30, 2007 rated it really liked it
Finished this book a few weeks ago but didn't have chance to post review.

This book is really critical for understanding the 'why' of the prison-industrial complex, and not just the 'how' - which I tend to think we know more about. Ruthie really breaks down why prisons emerged in California in the past several decades; specifically, surplus land, labor, capital, and government capacity. I was really trying to absorb what she was saying in this book, and the chapter on Corcoran (the siting of a p
I was expecting this book to lay out the full economy of prisons, but that's not what it does. It does give a pretty good sense of the economics and dynamics of sitting prisons in rural communities, but it doesn't go much beyond that. The rest of the book deals both with the economic history in rural CA and an activist group Mothers Reclaiming Our Children. I've heard this book get talked up a lot, so I was pretty disappointed. Also, Gilmore suggests, but doesn't outright say, that the massive p ...more
Oct 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This book breaks down the myths of anti-prison sentiments while simultaneously providing a narrative of how the state (specifically California) became a prison state out of recession and surplus. Gilmore provides the language of geographical/historical/capital shifts that increased incarceration and created political tough on crime rhetorics. She also layers this all with describing the racist laws and police interventions used to fill prison beds. Build the prison, then create the prisoner. It ...more
***Note: as a reminder, this is a long-form book review/reflection paper for my course, CPLN 624: Readings on Race, Poverty, and Place.

Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s Golden Gulag is about the massive growth of California’s state prison system, and grassroots opposition to the expanding use of prisons as fix-alls to social problems. For me, it also became a sharp indictment of the “tarnished practice of planning”, and the way it has left many abandoned localities eager for any means of dealing with their
Dec 05, 2011 rated it liked it
I gleaned a lot from the book. It draws crucial links between many political, economic, and demographic changes that I wouldn't have pieced together on my own.

My reading experience was a bit marred by stylistic vices:
(1) complex sentences packed with abstract nouns and jargon;
(2) tendency to offer 2-3 nouns/verbs when 1 would do, and to qualify statements to death, thereby trading clarity for "nuance."

Main take-aways of value, for me:
(1) Better understanding of connections among capitalist i
Dec 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
Excellent overview of an economic and racial analysis of prisons in Cali. Two things I gathered from quickly running through this as a source for something I was working on: prisons as containment policy towards structural unemployment and the key role the central valley plays as location and workforce for most prisons as well as on the political plane. Downsides: It could be cuz I'm not used to MLA style, but in some sections they gave too much clutter to the text. I was hoping to find a more d ...more
good info but makes the info hard to digest
Jun 06, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2021, abolition
i loved it - not exactly the best intro to abolition because it can get a little hard to read, but it's an essential for understanding how prisons relate to local political economies. if you want to understand how incarceration is inextricably tied to capitalism, this is the best place to start. ...more
May 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
ruthie is professor of geography and program director of american studies and ethnicity at usc. she is also a member of the california prison moratorium project, critical resistance, and the central california environmental justice network.

this unique combination of theory and practice makes golden gulag one of the most sophisticated, grounded books i've ever read on the prison-industrial complex.

golden gulag is imperative for anyone who wants to understand how and why california's undertaking
Sep 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Real awesome analysis of the California prison boom of the '80s and '90s. The book does a cool job of going from macroscopic big-picture analysis of capitalism and California political economy, down to more local analysis of small farm towns and activist groups of Southern California. Very dense, lots of information, but all written in a clear and concise way, accessible regardless of your background in the relevant subjects.

My only gripe is that I was hoping that it would cover dynamics across
Chance Grable
May 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Great book. In depth analysis of the development of prisons in relation to the rise of the neoliberal state. Followed by a social movement history of grassroots response to imprisonment by those impacted by it. Finishes off with her own thoughts on how to respond to the injustice that is the prison system by drawing from lessons learned by studying the problem and the grassroots response. This is a good example of activist scholarship.
If you are just starting to read about prisons this is a bet
Feb 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
A political-economic geographic analysis of the history of the prison industrial complex in California. Avoiding the prison-as-plantation narrative, Gilmore instead opts for a Marxian illustration of surplus labor/population and the "prison fix" as the solution to this problem of modern capitalism.

Golden Gulag faces the correlation/causation challenge prevalent in many social-science works. However, the book is extensively researched and referenced and provides a plausible explanation for how an
Apr 14, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: social justice students
This book contained fascinating political, economic, and cultural analysis demonstrating that prison expansion has become a cultural epidemic. The reason I only gave it three stars was because the (large) section on California's political economy was dry. However, the section dealing with Mothers Reclaiming Our Children (a non-profit organization) was both insightful, moving, and inspirational. I think the most valuable aspect of this book was Gilmore's insights about the best way to bring about ...more
Nov 13, 2009 rated it liked it
Interesting historical account of the development of the California prison system. However, it is deliberately, unabashedly, unsubtly Marxist to the point of being quite annoying - she uses "structure" and "class" to denote anything she feels like mentioning, which is both disingenuous and just plain wrong. Ultimately, her obsession with structural causes leaves no room for the sociocultural side of life. ...more
Nov 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
A somewhat conspiratorially-minded book on how the rise of the carcereal state in California represents a specific form of punitive response to the transformation of the state's political economy from Cold War industrialism to globally oriented information technology — a shift that has made the excluded brown underclass largely redundant. The writing is more activist than academic in tone (nothing wrong with that!) and the arguments are largely derivative of the scholarship of others. ...more
Jul 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Ruth Wilson Gilmore lays it all out there in this sobering, yet hopeful, analysis of California's prison industrial complex This book is tough to get through because there is a TON of information in it. It's written by somebody who is an experienced organizer for prison abolition. She offers insightful commentary on the system and ways that people can effect change. ...more
May 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An excellent book that breaks down the development of mass incarceration in California. Each chapter is a necessary part of the conversation, but I think that those interested in gaining a working understating of mass incarceration as a political and economic strategy will find the most use in the introduction and chapters 1 & 2.
Sep 10, 2007 added it
dense and tightly researched geography of prisons in the political economy of california. ruthie is an amazing geographer and prison industrial complex abolitionist.
read it and weep, then struggle with us.
Mar 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I just got to read the first couple of chapters at Marcos's house the other day. But this looks to be great. ...more
James Tracy
Feb 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Just in case you were thinking California was all sweetness, liberalism and light. Take a heavy dose of this book and start a revolution in the morning.

Dec 01, 2009 rated it liked it
A look at the rise of the Californian penal system, which is truly staggering in its dimensions, as well as the anti-prison organizations that seek to dismantle it.
Aug 18, 2012 added it
frindship nevar lost in the life
Feb 07, 2014 marked it as to-read
Shelves: social-criticism
Anybody want to send me a free copy?
Cara G
Feb 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
beautifully thought out and executed book.
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