Friday, June 5, 2015

More Books from 2014 and 2015

Our first book roundup featured five excellent books, most of which center on the themes of mass incarceration, rights and litigation, and the experience of punishment in confinement today. This post rounds out that list with a more eclectic collection, focusing more on race and history, but continuing the central focus on prison.

Perhaps the best segue from the last collection is Marie Gottschalk's new book from 2014, Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics (Princeton U. Press). Whereas several of the books in the last roundup centered on the possible end of mass incarceration, Gottschalk examines the intractability of mass incarceration. Among other things, Amazon's blurb tells us, "[s]he analyzes the shortcomings of the two dominant penal reform strategies--one focused on addressing racial disparities, the other on seeking bipartisan, race-neutral solutions centered on reentry, justice reinvestment, and reducing recidivism."

Also in 2014, we got Robert Ferguson's Inferno: An Anatomy of American Punishment (Harvard U. Press), which offers another view of why we've gotten to this point. According to Amazon, "He reveals the veiled pleasure behind the impulse to punish (which confuses our thinking about the purpose of punishment), explains why over time all punishment regimes impose greater levels of punishment than originally intended, and traces a disturbing gap between our ability to quantify pain and the precision with which penalties are handed down."

Turning more into history, we have two additional excellent books: First, Thomas Bahde's Life and Death of Gus Reed: A Story of Race and Justice in Illinois during the Civil War and Reconstruction (Ohio U. Press) offers a case study of an African American man who, late in the Civil War, travelled from Georgia to Illinois, where he spent much time in the criminal justice system, ultimately dying at the Illinois State Penitentiary. According to Amazon, "Gus Reed’s story connects the political and legal cultures of white supremacy, black migration and black communities, the Midwest’s experience with the Civil War and Reconstruction, and the resurgence of nationwide opposition to African American civil rights in the late nineteenth century. These experiences shaped a nation with deep and unresolved misgivings about race, as well as distinctive and conflicting ideas about justice and how to achieve it."

Second, focusing on a period nearly 100 years later, Dan Berger's Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era (UNC Press) traces the origin of mass incarceration to mid-century Black activism (see also Gottschalk's The Prison and the Gallows). According to the Amazon blurb, Berger argues, "The prison shaped the rise and spread of black activism, from civil rights demonstrators willfully risking arrests to the many current and former prisoners that built or joined organizations such as the Black Panther Party. Grounded in extensive research, Berger engagingly demonstrates that such organizing made prison walls porous and influenced generations of activists that followed." (This one might replace Cummins' Rise and Fall of the Radical Prisoner Movement on my prison history syllabus, but I haven't decided yet.)

New in 2015, we have Dennis Childs's Slaves of the State: Black Incarceration from the Chain Gang to the Penitentiary (U. of Minnesota Press). According to the blurb on Amazon, "Dennis Childs argues that the incarceration of black people and other historically repressed groups in chain gangs, peon camps, prison plantations, and penitentiaries represents a ghostly perpetuation of chattel slavery. He exposes how the Thirteenth Amendment’s exception clause—allowing for enslavement as “punishment for a crime”—has inaugurated forms of racial capitalist misogynist incarceration that serve as haunting returns of conditions Africans endured in the barracoons and slave ship holds of the Middle Passage, on plantations, and in chattel slavery." I only recently ordered this from Amazon, but I want to see how it changes the picture I have from Oshinsky's Worse than Slavery, McLennan's The Crisis of Imprisonment, and Alexander's The New Jim Crowe. Reading group anyone?

I've not yet even finished reading these books, but I'm really excited by all of the work being done. More book roundups to come, but let us know if you know of new works (or have one of your own to share)!

Update: an earlier version of this post included the publisher for only one book; the rest of the books now have the publisher listed as well.

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