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Prison by Any Other Name: The Harmful Consequences of Popular Reforms

4.52  ·  Rating details ·  415 ratings  ·  93 reviews
A crucial indictment of widely embraced “alternatives to incarceration” that exposes how many of these new approaches actually widen the net of punishment and surveillance.

“But what does it mean—really—to celebrate reforms that convert your home into your prison?” —Michelle Alexander, from the foreword

Electronic monitoring. Locked-down drug treatment centers. House arrest.
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published July 21st 2020 by The New Press
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Nov 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
So appreciated this book for its exploration of harmful prison reforms that may seem beneficial yet continue to enact harm. While more people have gained awareness about the racist awfulness of mass incarceration due to books like Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and films like 13th, I feel like contemporary society in the United States has not named the damage brought on by the popular reforms discussed in this book. Maya Schenwar and Victoria Law write about a variety of “alternatives to ...more
Truly excellent, well written, and comprehensive overview of the physical and invisible structures that make up the modern prison nation, and the dangers of many reforms that further entrench these institutions in our society. The book uses personal stories and data to make a powerful case against prisons and policing, including the ways it shows up in schools, mental health facilities, and public spaces. When reading the chapter on the foster system, something that came up for me is that abolit ...more
Alan Mills
Jul 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I just this minute out this down. I am blown away! I don’t agree with all the points they make (that would be boring), but every page makes you think—and the whole thing is really well written, very approachable, not at all “academic.”

The book can be broken down into three parts: the introduction, which generally reviews the reasons the current prison system is awful; the core of the book which examines various parts of the system which are not obviously “prisons” to show how they are closely in
Jul 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Very good, more later.
☁️ priya ☁️
3.5 stars

“What are the dangers of perfecting a system that was designed to target marginalized people? Reforms that supposedly improve the current system run the risk of entrenching dangerous, violent, racist, classist, ableist, oppressive institutions—making them even harder to uproot. When captivity is perceived as kinder and gentler, it becomes more acceptable and less of an urgent priority to confront, even though it continues to destroy countless lives.”

“For most of us, there is no rehabil
Sep 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I hosted an author event for this book on September 18th, 2020. You can watch a recording here.

When I read "Prison By Any Other Name" last July, I knew that it was one of the most important books of 2020. In fact, if you read only one work of nonfiction this year, please consider this brilliant exploration of "alternatives" to policing and incarceration! It's a meticulously researched exploration of popular reforms that centers the stories of real people to craft a highly readable but utterly de
A much-needed analysis of how many efforts at creative alternatives to incarceration wind up reinforcing incarceration in other forms. I gave it five stars because I think it should be required reading for anyone involved in activism around prisons and police right now. It also has a good last chapter that provides some great examples of actual abolitionist efforts as transformative justice.
Perfectly timed, Prison By Any Other Name is an in-depth review of all forms of incarceration in the US, and why the system needs to be completely overhauled, by focusing on harmful reforms. The authors provide important information on how certain reforms over the years are really only “reforms” in name, and cause possibly even more damage than regular behind-bars-prison (electronic monitoring for example, supposedly a more “gentle” form of incarceration, is actually more invasive and is used in ...more
Brady Koetting
May 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
While there wasn't too much for me in regards to having new revelations from this book, I still appreciated the personal stories and thoughts around how these "kinder prisons" affect people's lives.

When thinking about ways to change the justice system, everything needs to go back to three main questions in my mind.

1. Does this truly address the root cause of crime.
2. Does this not take away someone's autonomy or subject them to increased surveillance.
3. Does this heal the affected community.

Angie Sanchez
Feb 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Super insightful and well-written. I love that the authors included people with lived experiences for every type of “alternative” to incarceration that they examined.
h ♡
Aug 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
wow!!! literally made my stomach turn a few times. must-read.
Oct 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, crime, race
"Instead of widening the net of the prison industrial complex, we need to widen a different net—the safety net."
At a time that the phrase "Abolish prisons" is reaching the mainstream, this book is a really useful exploration of why it is incarceration and punishment-control systems that need to be reconsidered. Less an exploration of alternatives to prison, and more of how the prison system extends beyond bars, the book makes a compelling case for alternative approaches to justice, harm minimisa
Nov 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
READ THIS BOOK. And then get 10 friends to read it. Maya Schenwar and Victoria Law detail the ways that prison and policing have continuously expanded under the guise of “reform,” shape-shifting into an ever-widening net of state-funded oppression. The authors write in an easy to digest way and use both statistics and anecdotes to support different topics, from house arrest to drug treatment programs to restorative justice in schools. I especially appreciated the final chapter that gave examples ...more
Jul 17, 2020 rated it really liked it

This was a markedly uncomfortable read that I will be thinking about for some time. I’ve already asked two friends to read it because I want to be able to discuss its contents in more depth.

In order to review this, I need to comment on why I even noticed it. I rarely choose to read non-fiction, because I like my reading time to be enjoyable, an escape. Prior to this year, this title would barely have registered with me. If you’d asked me what I knew about abolitionism, I’d think of the graffiti
Holly Dowell
Oct 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is worth your time. Michelle Alexander wrote the foreword and Angela Davis endorsed it, so if you don’t take it from me, take it from them.

“Innovation, in itself, is no guarantee of progress. I’m so many cases, reform is not the building of something new. It is the re-forming if the system in its own image, using the same raw materials: white supremacy, a history of oppression, and a tool kit whose main contents are confinement, isolation, surveillance, and punishment.”

This well-writ
Nov 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A great follow-up to books like Are Prisons Obsolete? and The New Jim Crow, in Prison by Any Other Name, Maya Schenwar and Victoria Law take us through the many ways the criminal justice system has widened the net of imprisonment and monitoring in the name of reform.

Using a blend of personal stories and research, the book outlines the problems of popular reforms and police-like systems. It emphasizes how each of these “solutions” may limit the number of people physically in prison, but they catc
Dec 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
A look at why many alternatives to incarceration are just as (if not more) harmful than prison itself. The title alone really resonates with me, when I worked as a therapist in a mandated treatment center I referred to it as “outpatient jail.” Knowing that others have observed the same issues I did was both relieving (I’m not imaging things!) and horrifying (this problem is huge).

I really recommend this book to every social worker and counselor willing to be open minded. Which, if we are doing
Dan Stribling
Oct 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wow! This was such a powerful and accessible read for those interested in reimagining what community safety and liberation can look like. I have read several different books focused on policing and abolition. I found this book to be succinct and easy to consume for those interested in these topics- and I also found this book to be one that anyone could pick up even without previous understanding of abolition philosophies.

Further, I really appreciated how Schenwar and Law helped us expand our un
Ai Miller
May 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics
A hugely important book to read for folks looking and thinking about alternatives to incarceration and the ways that most of the "reforms" that are being currently offered are in fact functionally the same as prison and may, in some cases, be worse in terms of stretching out a person's punishment for far longer than if they had been sent to prison for the original crime they were accused of.

It's infuriating at every step (I started out reading this book right before I went to bed and ended up h
Oct 10, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really interesting and timely read. Like many people I've been seeing a lot about prison reform lately and this was a really informative look at various "popular" prison alternatives and why they might not be quite so beneficial as they might initially seem. Lots of food for thought, but I felt the conclusions about what actually would be meaningful reform was a little underdeveloped and didn't leave me entirely sold. ...more
Hannah Flynn
Feb 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
If you are even 1% interested in learning more about the carceral state and pushing your imagination beyond the realms of the prison industrial complex, read this book!! It’s an amazing, comprehensive, human-centered look at the way incarceration rules so much of the world beyond the walls of prison and the courts. Also, I found the audiobook version helpful in digesting the statistics and data.
Ed F
Sep 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Big and wide reaching extension of the concept of Mass Incarceration in the USA. On many levels this is not an "easy" read (ie it is uncomfortable and jarring) but once solutions are expressed, the picture becomes a lot clearer and the preceding ideas make a lot more sense. ...more
Megan Sanks
Oct 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was a really wonderful audiobook. Each chapter did a great job of discussing the faults of reforms like electronic monitoring, forced psychiatric treatment, house arrest, community policing, and others.
Dec 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Gut-wrenching and an absolute must-read. Masterfully filled with anecdotes and data to drive home the harm of the prison industrial complex and its adjacent systems. A great follow-up for abolitionist beginners who have just read Are Prisons Obsolete?
Aug 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
this book is really good and will immediately move to the top of my list of abolitionist recs. great reminder of prisons vs. PIC vs. prison nation...
Happy Skywalker
I would give this book 6 stars out of 5. If we would ALL read this book, see the truths in it & consider its suggestions, we could have a better world.
Feb 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book is a necessary read for anyone proposing reform to the prison industrial complex, not that they necessarily care. It is a thoughtful review of popular reforms that turned out to be harmful carceral expansions and ended with an inspiring glimpse into how individuals and communities are already addressing problems without the police. I really enjoyed it.
Jun 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing
mandatory reading. one that I’ll be seeing bits of everywhere
Karissa Elise
Oct 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Jul 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Thorough and beautifully written look at the many ways in which prisons (whether we call them that or not) are taking over our lives. Must read for anyone who is asking, "but if not police, what?" ...more
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Maya Schenwar is the author of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better, and is Editor-in-Chief of Truthout. She has written about the prison-industrial complex for Truthout, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Nation, Salon, Ms. Magazine, and others. She is the recipient of a Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Chi Award, an Independent Publisher Book Awar ...more

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10 likes · 5 comments
“There is unique gravity to an actual prison sentence, the violence of locking a human being in a cage. Yet the system is broader than the buildings called "prisons." Manipulation, confinement, punishment, and deprivation can take other forms - forms that may be less easily recognized as the violence they are.” 0 likes
“Monitors and house arrest aren't rehabilitative or transformative - they don't support people in making changes that would be helpful to their lives, gaining needed resources, addressing harm or violence, or confronting the social forces that affect them.” 0 likes
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