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Are Prisons Obsolete? Paperback – Aug 5 2003

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Seven Stories Press; 1 edition (Aug. 5 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1583225811
  • ISBN-13: 978-1583225813
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 0.9 x 18 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 222 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #22,937 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

About the Author

Over the last forty-odd years, ANGELA YVONNE DAVIS has been active in numerous organizations challenging prison-related repression. Born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1944, Davis studied at Brandeis University, the Sorbonne, and with Herbert Marcuse at the Goethe Institute. Her advocacy on behalf of political prisoners, and her alleged connection to the Marin County courthouse incident, led to three capital charges, sixteen months in jail awaiting trial, and a highly publicized acquittal in 1972. In 1998, Davis was one of the twenty-five organizers of the historic Berkeley, California conference “Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison Industrial Complex.” She is the author of many books, including Are Prisons Obsolete? and The Meaning of Freedom. She currently teaches in the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz.


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Format: Paperback
Following the over throw of reconstruction, the re-empowered white ruling class in the South needed a large pool of cheap labor. The Thirteenth Amendment, which outlawed slavery, contained one glaring exception--slavery was still completely legal for those who had been convicted of a crime. Suddenly, new legislation was enacted which criminalized a wide variety of behaviors not previously considered criminal--having no job, vagrancy, no visible means of support, etc.
Once these "Black Codes" were in place, prisons in the South were rapidly filled with Blacks. Prior to the Civil War, prisoners in the South were overwhelmingly White. After Reconstruction, they were overwhelmingly Black.
These new prisoners were "leased" to White plantation owners, at a flat fee. With no capital invested in these new slaves, many were simply worked to death. The economic incentive to ensure that the prisons were full was inescapable.
In this short, but powerful, book, Angela Davis makes the case that this pattern of incarcerating Blacks, set during the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, carries through to the present. Today the economics of incarceration are more subtle. Money is not primarily made through the labor of prisoners (although that still happens). Today, the real money is made by the underwriters who sell the bonds to finance prison construction, the myriad of industries which supply the country's 2 million prisoners with everything from soap to light bulbs, and by rural America, where the last three decades of de-industrialization has left prison as one of the very few decent paying union jobs available to formerly blue collar workers.
Ms.
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Format: Paperback
It is almost too much for the human mind to fully comprehend that there are more than 2 million people--a group larger than the population of many countries-- presently behind bars in America. While serving as an elected official, I was given an extensive "tour" of one of the local prisons. I tried not to show the horror -and sorrow- I felt at the sight of so many human beings locked away in high tech cages, for fear my "tour" would be cut short.
This thoroughly researched book by Angela Davis articulates everything I instinctively felt when I got a first hand glimpse of prison life. With the patience and restraint of a Saint, Angela Davis challenges thinking people to face the human rights catastrophe in our jails and prisons.
It is the authors hope that this book will encourage readers to question their own assumptions about prison. It is my hope that this book will be widely read by everyone involved in the field of education and politics. It should be on the recommended reading list of all high schools, colleges and universities.
Suza Francina, former Mayor, Ojai, California, and author, The New Yoga for People Over 50.
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Format: Paperback
A superb primer on the most pressing crisis most Americans know little about.
Concise, eloquent, and chock-full of insightful info, "Are Prison's Obsolete" is a book that every concerned citizen should read.
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A great (short) read about the prison system and race.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0xa33b96f0) out of 5 stars 59 reviews
76 of 81 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa359c12c) out of 5 stars An Urgent Appeal for Alternatives to Incarceration. Jan. 19 2004
By Suza Francina - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
It is almost too much for the human mind to fully comprehend that there are more than 2 million people--a group larger than the population of many countries-- presently behind bars in America. While serving as an elected official, I was given an extensive "tour" of one of the local prisons. I tried not to show the horror -and sorrow- I felt at the sight of so many human beings locked away in high tech cages, for fear my "tour" would be cut short.
This thoroughly researched book by Angela Davis articulates everything I instinctively felt when I got a first hand glimpse of prison life. With the patience and restraint of a Saint, Angela Davis challenges thinking people to face the human rights catastrophe in our jails and prisons.
It is the authors hope that this book will encourage readers to question their own assumptions about prison. It is my hope that this book will be widely read by everyone involved in the field of education and politics. It should be on the recommended reading list of all high schools, colleges and universities.
Suza Francina, former Mayor, Ojai, California, and author, The New Yoga for People Over 50.
43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa359c180) out of 5 stars Economics and Racism combine to create our broken prisons Feb. 1 2004
By Alan Mills - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Following the over throw of reconstruction, the re-empowered white ruling class in the South needed a large pool of cheap labor. The Thirteenth Amendment, which outlawed slavery, contained one glaring exception--slavery was still completely legal for those who had been convicted of a crime. Suddenly, new legislation was enacted which criminalized a wide variety of behaviors not previously considered criminal--having no job, vagrancy, no visible means of support, etc.
Once these "Black Codes" were in place, prisons in the South were rapidly filled with Blacks. Prior to the Civil War, prisoners in the South were overwhelmingly White. After Reconstruction, they were overwhelmingly Black.
These new prisoners were "leased" to White plantation owners, at a flat fee. With no capital invested in these new slaves, many were simply worked to death. The economic incentive to ensure that the prisons were full was inescapable.
In this short, but powerful, book, Angela Davis makes the case that this pattern of incarcerating Blacks, set during the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, carries through to the present. Today the economics of incarceration are more subtle. Money is not primarily made through the labor of prisoners (although that still happens). Today, the real money is made by the underwriters who sell the bonds to finance prison construction, the myriad of industries which supply the country's 2 million prisoners with everything from soap to light bulbs, and by rural America, where the last three decades of de-industrialization has left prison as one of the very few decent paying union jobs available to formerly blue collar workers.
Ms. Davis draws on a plethora of academic studies (several dozen of which are cited in footnotes, which provide anyone interested with a comprehensive study guide for understanding the historical antecedents and current realities of America's love affair with the prison.
Her bottom line--abandon the whole flawed system. The last chapter, which attempts to answer the immediate question posed to anyone who dares raise this option, is the book's weakest. Too much rhetoric; not enough solid proposals. Nonetheless, the historical breadth, backed by detailed facts, of Ms. Davis' book make it well worth reading.
39 of 44 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa359c5b8) out of 5 stars Why Prisons Aren't About Justice Sept. 15 2004
By H. Thomas - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book, while providing historical context, is not overly academic and is very readable. Davis presents some startling facts about the prison as a replacement for the plantation and about the intrinsic racism of capital punishment.

The division between prison reform and prison abolition is an artificial one that need not slow the progress of either prison reform or the development of abolitionist theory. I've heard Davis speak on the subject as well. She emphasizes the need to both insist that correctional institutions be reformed AND to acknowledge that there is no "just" way to incarcerate people at the rate that the US currently does.

Read this book to expand you field of vision about the alternatives to the current criminal justice system and to place these issues in historical context.
57 of 68 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa359c978) out of 5 stars theory heavy; not a good intro to prison issues Aug. 6 2004
By j.r. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This may just be the way I approach prison issues, but I believe that the current crisis in U.S. prisons -- overincarceration, privitization, horrific health problems, racism, inadequate educational programs -- do not necessarily need a wide historical analysis to call attention to themselves. I am, like Davis, a socialist, but I think the mess that is the prison industrial complex can be described in a way that will make liberals, not just radicals, agree that the system needs to change right away -- and I think that this is more important than focusing on the more abstract idea of prison abolition. When I heard her speak at a prisoner conference last year, she focused on the difference between being a prison reformer and a prison abolitionist: a difference that is addressed in this work. This book as a whole is an argument for prison abolition. But prison reform is more urgent, and more possible. I find it hard to focus on her arguments as a result.

I recommend to people interested in an intro to contemporary prison issues Christian Parenti's book Lockdown America -- he is as angry as Davis, but his book provides more statistical and descriptive evidence than she does as to why you should be angry as well. Articles written by prisoners themselves are collected in the 1998 collection The Celling of America ed by Daniel Burton-Rose and 2003's Prison Nation ed by T. Herivel and P. Wright. (Note that Prison Nation includes articles written by non-prisoners as well.)

Prison activists and those who are currently reading into the american prison system should read Davis' book, but I urge those looking for an introduction not to start here.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa359ca5c) out of 5 stars A Brilliantly Reasoned Critique of the American Prison System April 21 2006
By F - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In "Are Prisons Obsolete?", Professor Davis provides a clear and cogent argument that prisons not only are obsolete but that they have always been and always will be ineffectual for any purpose other than to oppress an unfairly disfavored class of people.

I concur with a previous reviewer that Professor Davis's book is by no means overly theoretical or academic. The explanation of the history of prisons in America is crucial to her intent to prove that prisons are ineffective as rehabilitatory institutions and to explain what prisons have become today in lieu of that. Although many people originally considered the institution of prisons as a progressive step that would rehabilitate criminals, economic factors and racist motives quickly perverted the prison system into a loophole in the Thirteenth Amendment's prohibition against slavery. The need for cheap labor in the South after the Civil War prompted the creation of legislation geared towards incarcerating as many African-Americans as possible. These prisoners were subsequently leased out as cheap laborers. Professor Davis discusses this history of racism and economic oppression in Chapter Two of the book.

Professor Davis uses more recent history to explain how the prison system has given way to a prison industrial complex that exploits minority prisoners for economic gain in a different way. She very convincingly argues throughout Chapter Five that so-called "tough on crime" litigation and the rapid increase in the number of prisons during the past three decades is directly attributable to the economic interests of private prisons and other corporations from a wide range of industries. Although these portions of the book admittedly are intermittently peppered with Communist and Socialist phrasing, one need not embrace Communist economic thought to appreciate the value of Professor Davis's arguments. Indeed, it is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to find any type of premise assumed by Professor Davis that she does not thoroughly justify and support with facts.

A previous reviewer commented that other books would serve as a better introduction to the problems of the American prison system than "Are Prisons Obsolete?" because Professor Davis does not provide enough facts and statistics regarding these problems. Professor Davis does, in fact, devote two chapters of the book to the problems in prisons and the reform movement (including an entire chapter devoted to How Gender Structures the Prison System). But even without these facts, the value of Professor Davis's book is that it proposes a program of prison _abolition_ that should be pursued simultaneously with the prison reform movement. She lauds the work of prison reformers to end the epidemic of violence and sexual assault in prisons, to provide better educational and employment opportunities to prisoners, and to improve prison conditions generally, but she also points out that even if all these prison reforms could somehow be realized, the existence of any type of prison system would be unjust and ineffectual. In other words, although other books on the problems inherent in the prison system exist that are of equal importance, "Are Prisons Obsolete?" is a necessary addition to the academic literature on prisons in that it highlights problems that are tragically overlooked by the majority of prison reformers.

For the foregoing reasons, I would highly recommend Professor Davis's book to anyone who is interested or concerned about the state of American prisons and also to anyone concerned with race and gender problems in America.


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