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Prisons and Mass Incarceration in America

The United States of America has the highest prison population rate in the world, with approximately 21% of the world's incarcerated population. Here is a reading list on the complex history of the prison system, its effects on incarcerated individuals and society, and the potential for reform.

 

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
Although Jim Crow laws have been wiped off the books, an astounding percentage of the African American community remains trapped in a subordinate status - much like their grandparents before them. In this incisive critique, former litigator-turned-legal-scholar Michelle Alexander provocatively argues that we have not ended racial caste in America: we have simply redesigned it. Alexander shows that, by targeting black men and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of color blindness. The New Jim Crow challenges the civil rights community - and all of us - to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America.

Understanding Mass Incarceration: A People's Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of Our Time by James William Kilgore
We all know that orange is the new black and mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow, but how much do we actually know about the structure, goals, and impact of our criminal justice system? Understanding Mass Incarceration offers the first comprehensive overview of the incarceration apparatus put in place by the world's largest jailer: the United States. Drawing on a growing body of academic and professional work, Kilgore describes in plain English the many competing theories of criminal justice--from rehabilitation to retribution, from restorative justice to justice reinvestment.

American Prison: A Reporter's Undercover Journey Into the Business of Punishment by Shane Bauer
The investigative journalist draws on his experiences working in a Louisiana private prison to connect today's brutal for-profit prison system to the Civil War-era mass incarcerations of African-American workers.

Decarcerating America: From Mass Punishment to Public Health by Ernest M. Drucker (editor)
Mass incarceration will end--there is an emerging consensus that we've been locking up too many people for too long. But with more than 2.2 million Americans behind bars right now, how do we go about bringing people home? Decarcerating America collects some of the leading thinkers in the criminal justice reform movement to strategize about how to cure America of its epidemic of mass punishment.

Burning Down the House : The End of Juvenile Prison by Nell Bernstein
In a clear-eyed indictment of the juvenile justice system run amok, award-winning journalist Nell Bernstein shows that there is no right way to lock up a child. The very act of isolation denies delinquent children the thing that is most essential to their growth and rehabilitation: positive relationships with caring adults.

Mass Incarceration on Trial: A Remarkable Court Decision and the Future of Prisons in America by Jonathan Simon
For nearly 40 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. Mass Incarceration on Trial examines a series of landmark decisions about prison conditions 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 lead to the end of mass incarceration.

Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment by Angela J. Davis (editor)
A comprehensive analysis of the key issues behind the Black Lives Matter movement features twelve essays by some of America's most influential criminal justice experts and legal scholars.

Locked in: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration--and How to Achieve Real Reform by John F Pfaff
A groundbreaking reassessment of the American prison system, challenging the widely accepted explanations for our exploding incarceration rates.

A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing : The Incarceration of African American Women From Harriet Tubman to Sandra Bland by DaMaris B Hill
From Harriet Tubman to Assata Shakur, Ida B. Wells to Sandra Bland and Black Lives Matter, black women freedom fighters have braved violence, scorn, despair, and isolation in order to lodge their protests. In "A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing," DaMaris Hill honors their experiences with at times harrowing, at times hopeful responses to her heroes, illustrated with black-and-white photographs throughout.

The Second Chance Club: Hardship and Hope After Prison by Jason Matthew Hardy
A former parole officer shines a bright light on a huge yet hidden part of our justice system through the intertwining stories of seven parolees striving to survive the chaos that awaits them after prison in this illuminating and dramatic book.

Chasing Gideon: The Elusive Quest for Poor People's Justice by Karen Houppert
On the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, the landmark case that led to free legal counsel for those who needed it, a veteran journalist investigates the way justice is delivered to the poor--and discovers a crisis in our nation's courts.

Infinite Hope: How Wrongful Conviction, Solitary Confinement and 12 Years on Death Row Failed to Kill My Soul by Anthony Graves
Infinite Hope is an argument against the death penalty through one man's personal story. It is about a man enduring a life on death row year after year, when he knows that he is one hundred percent innocent and that his exoneration is unlikely.

 

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