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 of America's biggest growth industry, a self-perpetuating prison-industrial complex that has become entrenched without public awareness, much less voter consent. He answers, in an extraordinary way, the essential question: What, in human terms, is the price we pay He has looked for answers to that question in every corner of the "prison nation," a world far off the media grid - the America of struggling towns and cities left behind by the information age and desperate for jobs and money. Hallinan shows why the more prisons we build, the more prisoners we create, placating everyone at the expense of the voiceless prisoners, who together make up one of the largest migrations in our nation's history.
If crime rates are dropping, why is the number of prisons growing rapidly What are the cause and implications of the "prison boom" Hallinan, winner of a Pulitzer Prize and Harvard's prestigious Nieman Fellowship, delivers a clear-eyed, sleekly written and deeply disturbing tour of the privatized prison landscape of America circa 2000, with a welcome (if unnerving) focus on the human aspect of maximum incarceration. "The merger of punishment and profit [is] reshaping this country," he argues. Beginning with Texas ("Texas is to the prison culture of the 1990s what California was to the youth culture in the 1960s"), Hallinan details the cold calculation that fosters anticrime hysteria and the competition among postindustrial, "job-hungry" regions for a piece of the boom or "prison-industrial complex" by offering perks like tax abatements and job training. While he draws sympathetic portraits of mild-mannered wardens and ordinary folks attracted to the high pay of corrections work, he also shows how some have been transformed-not for the better-by this work. Hallinan proposes that punitive mandatory minimum sentencing and federal prosecutorial zeal inflate penal and police spending and that the post-Reagan privatization of prisons by a small group of powerful corporations has led to harsh "unintended circumstances" ranging from escapes, to the brutalization of nonviolent offenders, to inmate deaths resulting from medical negligence. Hallinan's documentation of malfeasance exposes the persistent erosion of important aspects of the country's social contract. This essential portrait of the current state of American justice continues a line of analyses pursued by other authors such as Christian Parenti in Lockdown America. Agent, Jane Dystel. (Mar. 20) Forecast: The National obsession with crime as well as Hallinan's sterling reputation will guarantee review coverage for this title, and a five-city author tour will further draw attention to this controversial argument. Copyright 2001Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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July 08, 2003
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Excerpt from Going up the River by Joseph Hallinan
In 1995, I met a man who would change the way I thought about prisons. His name was Jack Kyle, and he was a tough law-and-order Texan. He had blue eyes and swan-white hair, kept so neatly trimmed that it barely showed beneath the brim of his pale Stetson. He had been a warden in the 1960s and had nothing against locking folks up. He believed in it. But things had gotten out of hand.
It used to be, he said, that nobody wanted prisons. "Couldn't build 'em in the state of Texas." But after the Texas economy went bust in the mid-1980s, people began to reconsider. "Now, ever'body wants 'em." He thought this was a mistake. "People think they're just another place to work," he warned me. "But they're not."
I found out later what he meant. In the East Texas town of Livingston, I sat for a week on hard wooden benches in the courtroom of Judge Joe Ned Dean and watched as a skinny young prison guard made history. His name was Joel Lambright, Jr. -- Joe Boy to his family -- and he was the first guard in Texas history to be convicted of killing an inmate. Like so many other young men -- Joe Boy was then just twenty years old -- he had been lured to prison by prospects of a good working-class job, the kind that had all but disappeared from places like Livingston.
I began, there in that courtroom, to understand the power of the prison industry. I saw how the merger of punishment and profit was reshaping this country; how young men like Joe Boy, who might in another generation have joined the Army or gone to work in a factory, were now turning to prison for their livelihood. I saw job-hungry towns, desperate for something to keep their young people from leaving, compete for prisons the way they once had for industries, offering tax abatements and job training and all sorts of municipal goodies.