Saturday, December 31, 2011

Holidays in the Joint

I have been looking for a quick summary of all things related to criminal justice to recommend over the holiday, and have finally found it over at Prison Law Blog.

This isn’t a comprehensive best-of list since I’m sure I missed some good reads during my fall hiatus from prison blogging, just a quick round-up of some of the most important prison-related reads for me in 2011. Perhaps they will be useful reads for you as well. And please do add your own suggestions in the comments!
  • Reason‘s criminal justice issue: A stellar line-up of articles on prosecutorial misconduct, alternatives to jailing juveniles, the drug war, and more from the libertarian magazine.
  • Daedalus‘s mass incarceration issue: OK, this is actually from 2010 but if you are of a more academic bent, this special issue of the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is effectively a short one-volume anthology of the leading scholarship on America’s mass incarceration crisis.
  • ‘Realigning’ Criminal Justice in California” by Elliott Currie: Partly in response to Plata, California embarked this year upon a “realignment” of its criminal justice system that shifts responsibility for punishing low-level criminal offenders down to the county level. (Many news outlets have misleadingly described the realignment law as transferring state prisoners to county jails, which isn’t quite what’s happening. Rather, as of October 1, individuals convicted of certain state crimes are now punished at the county level — whether through a county jail term or whatever alternatives to incarceration the county comes up with.) The law is complex, and it’s too soon to start measuring its effects, which in any case will vary dramatically by county. There’s been lots of local reporting on the law’s effects in the California press, but unfortunately much of it has been misleading, fear-mongering, or incomplete. This article by UC-Irvine criminologist Elliott Currie does the best job of any single article I’ve seen of providing a brief but balanced overview of realignment’s pitfalls and possibilities.
  • When Felons Were Human,” by Rebecca McLennan: This essay can be usefully read alongside Dolovich’s article. McLennan, a Berkeley history professor, traces the origins of the idea, which Dolovich sees as central to today’s American criminal justice system, that felons forfeit their human rights. McLennan reminds us that “Americans haven’t always perceived prisoners and convicts as exceptional categories of human or even an exceptional category of citizen, undeserving of most or all rights.”
  • Why Mass Incarceration Matters,” by Heather Ann Thompson: This article in the Journal of American History came out in 2010, but I got to it in early 2011, so I’ll include it here. Thompson, a historian, argues that we need to incorporate mass incarceration into our understanding of post-World War II deindustrialization and urban decline. She also calls for revising the received narrative that mass incarceration was an understandable response to the high crime rates of the 1960s. If you can’t track down the journal, Thompson also recorded a podcast that’s worth a listen, which I wrote about here.
  • The Toughest Beat, by Josh Page: The first thorough study of the rise and political clout of the California prison guards’ union, valuable not just for understanding the broken politics of criminal justice in California but also a useful entrant into the national discussion over public sector unions more generally.
  • Prison Rape and the Government,” by David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow: One of several entries in Kaiser and Stannow’s pathbreaking series of New York Review of Books articles exposing the scandal of prison rape and explaining how we could better protect those in government detention.

Note to students: the Daedalus link on mass incarceration is a goldmine of scholarly articles and links which can aid you in writing your next research/reaction paper (in either one of my classes or any other criminal justice-related course). Particularly brilliant is Loic Wacquant's article on hyper-incarceration, wherein he describes America's imprisonment binge as a "delayed reaction to the civil rights movement and the ghetto riots of the mid-1960's."

Published pieces by noted criminologists Elliot Currie, Joan Petersilia, Jeffrey Fagan and Marie Gottschalk (whose article on imprisonment and the "great recession" I have been quoting from for the past year or so) are mixed in as well.

Nothing like a little light holiday reading, I always say. Enjoy the rest of your time off, but get ready to hit it again in the new year.

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