2014 and 2015 have offered us a good haul of new punishment books. The role of rights and litigation, the visceral experience of confinement, and the possible twilight of mass incarceration seem to be major themes. From 2014, we have Naomi Murakawa's The First Civil Right, Kitty Calavita and Val Jenness's Appealing to Justice, and Jonathan Simon's Mass Incarceration on Trial. According to the blurb from Oxford's website, "In The First Civil Right, Naomi Murakawa inverts the conventional wisdom by arguing that the expansion of the federal carceral state---a system that disproportionately imprisons blacks and Latinos---was, in fact, rooted in the civil-rights liberalism of the 1940s and early 1960s, not in the period after."
Calavita and Jenness also examine civil rights and incarceration, focusing on the prisoner grievance procedure in California's overcrowded, medically deprived prisons. According to UC Press, "Drawing on sometimes startlingly candid interviews with prisoners and prison staff, as well as on official records, the authors walk us through the byzantine grievance process, which begins with prisoners filing claims and ends after four levels of review, with corrections officials usually denying requests for remedies.... These voices unsettle conventional wisdoms within the sociological literature—for example, about the reluctance of vulnerable and/or stigmatized populations to name injuries and file claims, and about the relentlessly adversarial subjectivities of prisoners and correctional officials—and they do so with striking poignancy."
Simon's book also examines civil rights, major litigation, and mass incarceration, but offers another perspective, less about how mass incarceration occurred, but how society escapes this "fiscal and penological disaster." Simon's work centers on several significant prison limitation cases culminating in the 2011 Supreme Court case Brown v. Plata. This case, Simon argues, (again cribbing from the Free Press's website) "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."
In 2015, we already have two new releases: Hadar Aviram's Cheap on Crime and Extreme Punishment, edited by Keramet Reiter and Alexa Koenig. Like Simon, Aviram centers her analysis on our possible "escape" from mass incarceration, but offers an analysis centered on economic incentives rather than humanitarian motivations. According to UC Press's website, Aviram argues, "The 2008 financial crisis demonstrated the unsustainability of the incarceration project, thereby empowering policy makers to reform punishment through fiscal prudence and austerity."
Offering an expansive definition of punishment that should be a welcome move to many punishment and society scholars, Reiter and Koenig explore a variety of sanctions that skirt the boundary between punishment and not punishment. According to the Palgrave website, "Extreme Punishment examines the erosion of the legal boundaries that traditionally divide civil detention from criminal punishment. This collection of empirical studies illustrates how the mentally ill, non-citizen immigrants, and enemy combatants are treated as criminals in three of the world's oldest and wealthiest democracies: Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States."
Are there other books that you've been reading (or bought from Amazon and stare at on your bookshelf with the vow to read them soon)? Let us know! Send an email to punishmentsocietyblog -at- gmail.com.