Every week seems to bring more stories of the waste, misuse, cruelty, and injustice of America’s increasingly for-profit prison system. For years, the University of Illinois Press has taken a sustained interest in prisons, focusing not just on history but on incarceration’s role in contemporary society, and in particular on the human beings caught in the system. The books below offer a panorama of UIP scholarship on the topic while more recent titles reaffirm the Press’s commitment to sparking long-overdue reform.

mulvery-robertsWriting for Their Lives: Death Row USA, edited by Marie Mulvey-Roberts
Going well beyond graphic descriptions of death row’s madness and suicide-inducing realities, Writing for Their Lives offers powerful, compassionate, and harrowing accounts of prisoners rediscovering the value of life from within the brutality and boredom of the row. Editor Marie Mulvey-Roberts brings together the writings of prisoners (many of whom are also prize-winning authors) and the words of those who work in the field of capital punishment, whose roles have included defense attorney, prison psychiatrist, chaplain and warden, spiritual advisor, abolitionist and executioner, as well as a Nobel Prize nominee and a murder victim family member. What emerges are stories of the survival of the human spirit under even the most unimaginable circumstances, and the ways in which some prisoners find penitence and peace in the most unlikely surroundings.

hartnett challengingChallenging the Prison-Industrial Complex: Activism, Arts, and Educational Alternatives, edited by Stephen John Hartnett
Boldly and eloquently contributing to the argument against the prison system in the United States, these provocative essays offer an ideological and practical framework for empowering prisoners instead of incarcerating them. Experts and activists who have worked within and against the prison system join forces here to call attention to the debilitating effects of a punishment-driven society and offer clear-eyed alternatives, emphasizing working directly with prisoners and their communities. The volume offers rhetorical and political analyses of police culture, the so-called drug war, media coverage of crime stories, and the public-school-to-prison pipeline. The collection also includes case studies of successful prison arts and education programs in Michigan, California, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.

nembisDefining Deviance: Sex, Science, and Delinquent Girls, 1890-1960, by Michael A. Rembis
Defining Deviance analyzes how reformers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries perceived delinquent girls and their often troubled lives.

Drawing on exclusive access to thousands of case files and other documents at the State Training School in Geneva, Illinois, Michael A. Rembis uses Illinois as a case study to show how implementation of involuntary commitment laws in the United States reflected eugenic thinking about juvenile delinquency. Much more than an institutional history, Defining Deviance examines the cases of vulnerable young women to reveal the centrality of sex, class, gender, and disability in the formation of scientific and social reform.

hallettPrivate Prisons in America: A Critical Race Perspective, by Michael A. Hallett
Under the auspices of a governmentally sanctioned “war on drugs,” incarceration rates in the United States have risen dramatically since 1980. Increasingly, correctional administrators at all levels are turning to private, for-profit corporations to manage the swelling inmate population. Policy discussions of this trend toward prison privatization tend to focus on cost-effectiveness, contract monitoring, and enforcement, but in his Private Prisons in America, Michael A. Hallett reveals that these issues are only part of the story. Demonstrating that imprisonment serves numerous agendas other than “crime control,” Hallett’s analysis suggests that private prisons are best understood not as the product of increasing crime rates, but instead as the latest chapter in a troubling history of discrimination aimed primarily at African American men.

hartnett et. alWorking for Justice: A Handbook of Prison Education and Activism, edited by Stephen John Hartnett, Eleanor Novek, and Jennifer K. Wood
This collection documents the efforts of the Prison Communication, Activism, Research, and Education collective (PCARE) to put democracy into practice by merging prison education and activism. Through life-changing programs in a dozen states (Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin), PCARE works with prisoners, in prisons, and in communities to reclaim justice from the prison-industrial complex. The materials in this volume present a sweeping inventory of how communities and individuals both within and outside of prisons are marshaling the arts, education, and activism to reduce crime and enhance citizenship.

 

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