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Going Up the River: Travels in a Prison Nation

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  188 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews
The American prison system has grown tenfold in thirty years, while crime rates have been relatively flat: 2 million people are behind bars on any given day, more prisoners than in any other country in the world — half a million more than in Communist China, and the largest prison expansion the world has ever known.

In Going Up The River, Joseph Hallinan gets to the heart
Paperback, 288 pages
Published July 8th 2003 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published January 1st 2001)
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Mar 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-book
very interesting look how the prison system works!
Apr 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
When one segment of a nation’s population stands to gain financially from the imprisonment of another segment of the population, bad things happen. Such is the story of Going up the River. Hallinan travels across the U.S. examining the effects the war on drugs/war on crime has had on our nation. The metaphor of "war" predictably leads to mandatory sentencing, which leads to a politically easy “get tough on crime" stance which leads to a swelling prison population, which leads to privatized priso ...more
Nathan Albright
Apr 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: challenge-2018
Having read a couple of books by the author before [1], I found it a bit surprising that he had written so much about prisons and that he had devoted himself to writing about them often.  This book is one I feel deeply ambivalent about.  Like the author, I have a considerable interest in prisons [2] going back to my youth, and though I have never (thanks be to God) been put in prison, I have visited them and taken a serious interest in their workings.  The author seems to be deeply hostile to th ...more
Badly Drawn Girl

Should be required reading for everyone in the US. This eye opening account about our prison system shows the true cost of our obsession in regards to crime. Building more and more prisons has put many states in tight financial straits, and rehabilitation is no longer even a priority. This book doesn't preach but introduces us to a variety of people who are in the prison system in some capacity. For the most part, the reader is allowed to reach their own conclusion but it's hard to ignore that w
Jan 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
Read like a screed. I was hoping to get more information about life inside prison cells, but instead this book was a macro-look at the prison industry written by someone with a ridiculously transparent agenda.
Audacia Ray
Apr 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
"...what I found there was the perfectly evolved American prison. It was both lavishly expensive and needlessly remote, 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 corrections."

This is an eye-opening, thorough book about the evolution of the prison-industrial complex (PIC) since the mid-twentieth century. The complex ugl
Zena Ryder
Jan 23, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a well-researched, well-written book, with good footnotes (which isn't always the case with books written by journalists). It is getting old now (published in 2001), so I'm now reading a more up-to-date book on the same topic. My understanding is that the American trend of incarcerating more and more people (especially black men) may be in the process of reversing. Maybe one day, the US won't be the world leader in this regard. However, even if the number of prisoners decreases, the fund ...more
Feb 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
I finally found this book; most annoyingly, as I was really enjoying it, it was lost for a good 6 or 7 weeks! I do believe I'll have to start over at the beginning, but at least I wasn't too far into it when it went missing.

Some months later:
My niece Lea recommended this book to me, after having read it for a class at Occidental College. Her prof had said that, although it was published in 2001, the issues it raised were still timely. WELL, this book, together with The New Jim Crow, presents abo
Apr 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Last this past week I read Up the River: Travels in a Prison Nation, by Joseph T. Hallman, in which Hallman gives a history of American penalism while traveling throughout the country and visiting its most pivotal prisons. One out of every one hundred Americans is in prison, which is quite a statistic: "the land of free" leads the world in incarceration, putting even police states like China to shame. Prisons are big business, and that's the point of Hallman's book. Whereas in the past prisons w ...more
Apr 16, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009
This book was really fascinating and an interesting read. I knew almost nothing about prisons except that one of them held my choir teacher for a few months. There are some crazy things happening in the prisons. The other thing that I had never thought about before was the purpose of prisons: rehabilitation, punishment, holding cells, etc. I still haven't formed a concrete opinion about what I think that purpose of prisons should be. I do know, however, that I never want to be in prison ever but ...more
Jessica Landesman
Jan 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Jessica by: class read for Ceciliar Tichi--my most favorite professor
I absolutely loved this book. I'm a fan of most books written in a journalistic style/approach. I learned why we have prisons is as much political and commercial as the supermarket down the block. Going Up River made me want to reform the prison system for the couple weeks after reading it, but then I quickly found myself discouraged by all the bureaucratic and political shambles involved that were touched on by the author as well. We profit off of thieves, rapists, and murderers. Oh the tangled ...more
If you don't know what goes on in prisons, this will inform you. If you don't have any strong opinions as to what goes on in them, this won't give you any. Hallinan presents only the facts of the system, and only the unvarnished accounts of the men and women who inhabit it. Which is all well and good, for the sake of objectivity, but leaves the book lacking a certain ardor. I wish this had been a little more opinionated.
Dec 30, 2012 rated it liked it
Read for my Prison Law class. A little too breezy, but a good journalistic account of what others call the "prison-industrial complex." It covers all the facets of incarceration--including its impact on the people who work within the prisons themselves--and illustrates how the human cost of mass incarceration affects poor people, whether they are the ones in the cages or the ones with the keys to the cages.
May 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
Not exactly a light read, but very good. This book is about 10 years old, but it doesn't feel particularly dated. Some parts are so brutal I felt physically ill. If you care about this stuff (and if you don't, you probably should), it's a good place to start. It also makes a great complement to Newjack, giving the macro perspective instead of the personal.
Apr 13, 2009 is currently reading it
Interesting overview of the American prison system, with particular attention to Texas prisons, specifically the farming prisons in the bottomland between the Trinity River and the Brazos. In other words, while the book is national in scope, it spends a lot of time on the prisons in the Houston region. Good history of the various approaches to crime and punishment over years and cultures....
Nov 29, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Made me glad I'm not in prison. Made me sad that so many other people are. There are some things worse than the death penalty, and if everything in this book is true, than going to prison is one of them. If you're reaction to that is "Good, they deserve it" than you should read the book and see if your cold, dark heart softens a little.
Mar 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A shocking, eye-opening look at the U.S. prison system. Although this book is now more than 10 years old, I'm sure that much of what it describes is still occurring in today's prison system. While you may come away from reading this book with more questions than answers about our "justice" system, you will certainly be thinking about it for a long time to come.
Frederick Bingham
Jan 01, 2012 rated it liked it
A book about America's obsession with prisons and incarceration. The author visits prisons all over the country, from Maine to California, and documents some of the inhumane conditions he finds. He describes the absurdity of putting so many people in prison as well as the incredible expense and waste.
Mar 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Every law student should read this book before 1st year crim law and procedure. It is an indictment of prisons being used as both the sole punitive remedy for crime, and it becoming an economic boon to poor, rural areas.
Victoria Law
Sep 23, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: prison-reading
Lots of historical information about prisons in the U.S., but the focus is more on tracing the economic impacts of prisons with very little attention paid to race and the color(s) of who ends up in prison.
May 12, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: those who don't know much about prisons, but think they're f'd up.
probably not the best book written about prisons, but actually about prisons (as opposed to no more prisons, which isn't). it was pretty interesting for the uninformed (me). gets boring at the end, though.
Jul 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
A good introduction to the prison-industrial complex.
Informative look at the prison complex in the US
Mar 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This was one of the 2002 RUSA Notable Books winners. For the complete list, go to
Jun 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing
read this twice - fascinating look at the private prison industry and the united states detention centers in general
Katie Hawkins
Mar 28, 2011 rated it liked it
This sheds light on the corruption within our prison systems. However, it is also extremely bias in some chapters.
Jill Sorenson
I don't usually rate nonfiction. This was an eye-opening read on the business model behind supermax prisons.
Feb 23, 2016 added it
I actually stopped reading this book about fifty pages in, because I didn't feel like he was telling me anything I didn't already know, but then I've read very widely on the subject of incarceration.
Jul 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
Great insights into what's wrong with the American prison system.
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Joe Hallinan is a writer based in Chicago. He has written for many of the world's leading publications, including The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and the Sunday Times of London. His most recent book is Kidding Ourselves: The Hidden Power of Self-Deception (Crown, 2014).

His previous book, Why We Make Mistakes (Broadway Books, 2009), was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection.
More about Joseph T. Hallinan

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