For nearly forty years the United States has been gripped by policies that have placed more than 2.5 million Americans in jails and prisons designed to hold a fraction of that number of inmates. Our prisons are not only vast and overcrowded, they are degrading—relying on racist gangs, lockdowns, and Supermax-style segregation units to maintain a tenuous order.
Mass Incarceration on Trial examines a series of landmark decisions about prison conditions—culminating in Brown v. Plata, decided in May 2011 by the U.S. Supreme Court—that has opened an unexpected escape route from this trap of “tough on crime” politics. This set of rulings points toward values that could restore legitimate order to American prisons and, ultimately, lead to the demise of mass incarceration. Simon argues that much like the school segregation cases of the last century, these new cases represent a major breakthrough in jurisprudence—moving us from a hollowed-out vision of civil rights to the threshold of human rights and giving court backing for the argument that, because the conditions it creates are fundamentally cruel and unusual, mass incarceration is inherently unconstitutional.
Since the publication of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, states around the country have begun to question the fundamental fairness of our criminal justice system. This book offers a provocative and brilliant reading to the end of mass incarceration.
The importance of the information in this book is high. As far as I can tell, the facts are correct and the arguments are decent.
However, the organization in this book is lacking. There are 7 chapters - but each chapter is disorganized. The author would have benefited from subheadings - it would have helped guide the reader (me!) and it would have helped him stay focused on one element at a time. Instead, there is a lot of repetition, fragmentation, and it really slows the reader down. Even worse, it prevents me from recommending this book to those who really should read it, and prevents me from taking strong quotes from it.
All in all - the information is there, the author just could have done more to convey it clearly and concisely.
Pros: This book contains a lot of interesting information about court cases with direct bearing on the problems inherent in a mass incarceration system--especially one that consistently operates at 200-300% over capacity. It also does a good job of centering the importance of social narratives: The way we think about prisoners affects how we're willing to (mis)treat them, and sometimes changing the narrative is even more important than changing individual laws.
Cons (no pun intended): The book was repetitive. It was clear and easy to read, but each chapter repeated too much information from previous chapters, which became irritating over time.
There were glancing references to issues of race and class, but it seemed to me that these subjects-- so important when discussing the justice and penal systems--were mostly glossed over.
An interesting chronology of juridical precedent as it relates to mass incarceration in California prisons. However, it is ultimately still idealist in its proposals without questioning the necessity of prisons in the first place, a disappointing analysis on what can actually be done about the destructive tendencies of the criminal justice system.
I’m very glad I read this book. The author does an excellent job of summarizing in a very readable, understandable way what has happened in our prison system over the last 50 years (with a little touch here and there on the longer ago past). He looks at the Supreme Court Decision in Brown vs. Plata back in 2011 to reveal how prisons were actually functioning in California (and the author suggests many other places around the country). The process of incarcerating mass numbers of people for indeterminate times and without making distinctions - has put us in a shameful position. The author does not provide remedies as much as tell the story of what is happening in California and the implications of the decision for potentially bringing about what he calls a “dignity cascade” moving the issue of how people are treated in jail from a civil rights issue to a human rights issue. It is a small readable book with a big impact (at least on me). I’m very glad I read it - it gave me a lot to think about.
Outstanding study of Brown v. Plata that offers a superb examination of the outcomes Of our carceral state. The micro view is efficient and allows for lots of information to be spread, though I found the lack of identity politic analysis disheartening. An academic read But moving at times. this largely is informative and analytical and lacks the emotional punch of slavery by another name or the new Jim Crow. Four stars