August 13, 2020
This Sunday I will be giving a talk at one of the congregations/prayer groups I belong to on "Reimagining Criminal Justice in the United States." If you have been following us, you know that we have running a series of webinars on this theme. Moreover, our virtual gala on September 9 is called "Human Rights at the Prison Door: Reimagining Criminal Justice in the U.S." The last webinar in the series will be on Wednesday, August 19 at 11:30 a.m. Tyrone Walker, a returning citizen, will be interviewed. I have prepared a reading list for the talk I am going to give in case any of the participants want to do further reading. Here is the list I compiled:
American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey Into the Business of Punishment by Shane Bauer, Penguin Press, 2018.
Arbitrary Justice: The Power of the American Prosecutor by Angela J. Davis, Oxford University Press, 2009.
Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics by Marie Gottschalk, Princeton University Press, 2015.
Chokehold: A Renegade Prosecutor’s Radical Thoughts on How To Disrupt the System [Policing Black Men] by Paul Butler, The New Press, 2017.
From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America, by Elizabeth Hinton, Harvard University Press, 2016.
Hell Is A Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement, edited by Jean Casella, James Ridgeway, and Sarah Shourd, The New Press, 2016.
Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness by Alisa Roth, Basic Books, 2018.
Solitary: The Inside Story of Supermax Isolation and How We Can Abolish It, by Terry Allen Kupers, University of California Press, 2017.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander, The New Press, 2010.
Unusually Cruel: Prisons, Punishment, and the Real American Exceptionalism by Marc Morjé Howard, Oxford University Press, 2017.
Waiting For An Echo: The Madness of American Incarceration by Christine Montross, M.D., Penguin Press, 2020.
This list is in alphabetical order by title. The most compelling books are the personal accounts such as Shane Bauer's American Prison. Mr. Bauer went undercover and got himself hired as a correctional officer in a private prison in Louisiana. His description not only of the brutality and disrespect shown to the inmates is matched by his descriptions of how deadening and exhausting the work is for correctional officers.
Another must read is Hell is a Very Small Place. This is a collection of essays and first person accounts by people who are incarcerated. Some of the descriptions of prison life and especially the brutality of solitary confinement are shocking as they should be.
Waiting for an Echo really moved me. Dr. Montross is a psychiatrist and she describes her experiences evaluating people charged with crimes and as well as treating incarcerated people. She brilliantly demonstrates how crazy it is to place mentally ill people in a prison. People who are mentally ill need to be treated; they need therapy. Prisons are basically concerned only about security not the health of those locked up. Alisa Roth's Insane: America's Treatment of Mental Illness is another book that shows the inadequacy of mental health resources in our society and especially in prisons. All these books are first rate and I recommend that you read at least one of them this year.