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August 25, 2014

"Mass Incarceration on Trial: A Remarkable Court Decision and the Future of Prisons in America"

Mass_incarceration_finalThanks to this new posting at The Crime Report, I see the exciting news that Jonathan Simon's new book about mass incarceration and California's dysfunctional role therein has been released by The New Press.  The book's title makes up the title of this post, and here is how the publisher describes the book on its website:

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.  In short, mass incarceration has proven to be a fiscal and penological disaster.

A landmark 2011 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Plata, has opened an unexpected escape route from this trap of “tough on crime” politics and points toward values that could restore legitimate order to American prisons and ultimately lead to the dismantling of “mass incarceration.”  Berkeley law professor Jonathan Simon — an internationally renowned critic of mass incarceration and the war on crime — argues that, much like the epic school segregation cases of the last century, this new case represents a major breakthrough in jurisprudence.  Along with twenty years of litigation over medical and mental health care in California prisons, the 2011 Brown decision moves us from a hollowed-out vision of civil rights to the threshold of human rights.

Exposing the priority of politics over rational penal policy — and debunking the premise that these policies are necessary for public safety — this perceptive and groundbreaking book urges us to seize the opportunity to replace mass incarceration with a system anchored in the preservation of human dignity.

August 25, 2014 at 05:23 PM | Permalink


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Mass incarceration benefits absolutely no one except two groups: prison guard unions and prison corporations.

For example, the obvious source of the mass incarceration disaster that has taken take place in California is the political collusion/bribery of politicians in Sacramento (including most Democrats and perhaps especially Jerry Brown himself) by the California prison guards union (the CCPOA). An endless succession of bills to make sentences longer and parole more difficult have been pushed through the CA legislature over the last 30 years by politicians funded by the CCPOA.

Meanwhile the prison guards of the CCPOA regularly earn $125-200k per year, including overtime but not including extremely generous health and retirement packages. And job security? Well, that's certainly not a concern as the politicians in the CCPOA's pocket are always eager to pass yet another "tough on crime" bill.

At a certain point, the degree of human injustice and suffering engendered by this "Iron Triangle" of political opportunism and bribery begins to border on genocide. And Prof. Simon is correct: Brown v. Plata was groundbreaking in how it began to at least hint at describing the problem in such terms, that is, as a large-scale crime against humanity.

Posted by: James | Aug 25, 2014 8:34:58 PM

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