I need your help.
I co-founded the Prison Policy Initiative to put the problem of mass incarceration — and the perverse incentives that fuel it — on the national agenda. Over the last 17 years, our campaigns have protected our democracy from the prison system and protected the poorest families in this country from the predatory prison telephone industry. Our reports untangle the statistics and recruit new allies.
But now, more than ever, we need your help to put data & compassion into the conversation.
—Peter Wagner, Executive DirectorDonate
The Prison Index: Taking the Pulse of the Crime Control Industry, by Peter Wagner (2003)
Contains 611 footnoted facts and 17 graphs and charts in a more accessible form than the website.
An Expensive Way to Make Bad People Worse: An Essay on Prison Reform from an Insider's Perspective, by Jens Soering (2004) Read the review.
A Suitable Amount of Crime by Nils Christie (2004)
Control As Industry: Towards Gulags, Western Style, by Nils Christie (2000)
Puts U.S. imprisonment in global context, explains how imprisonment rates have been changed up or down in response to political needs, and takes on the commodification of pain delivery.
Understates the role of race in U.S. incarceration policy.
This is the greatest and freshest approach to prison analysis. A must read! (A longer book review)
- Rebel and a Cause: Caryl Chessman and the Politics of the Death Penalty in Postwar California, by Theodore Hamm (2001). This important book traces how the right managed to take the initiative from the opponents of the death penalty.
Gates of Injustice: The Crisis in America's Prisons by Alan Elsner (2004)
Ties together a lot of powerful facts along with interviews for a powerful narrative about how the crime control monster grew and what we should do about it.
Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett by Jennifer Gonnerman (2004)
Life on the Outside is the first major work of journalism on the subject of re-entry: the challenge of leaving prison and re-entering the free world. This journey will be taken by millions of Americans in the coming years and will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the economics, safety, and soul of our nation. Life on the Outside chronicles one woman's homecoming.
Invisible Punishment The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment, eds.
Marc Mauer and Meda Chesney-Lind, 2002
Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing, by Ted Conover (2000).
The NYDOCS wouldn't let Conover write a story about the guard's training academy, so he did the only thing he could: Applied for a job working as a correctional officer.
to Incarcerate by Marc Mauer (1999)
August 1999 hardcover, May 2001 paperback
Good timely data, good history and analysis.
Well put together, timely book. The historical analysis from 1970 to the present alone makes this an essential book.
Search and Destroy: African-American Males in the Criminal Justice System by Jerome Miller (1996)
Summarizes all major research on the subject.
This book goes where none has gone before: Attempting to answer the question "Is criminal justice intentionally racist and to what degree can we prove it?" Miller has the courage to spend the last few pages on a list of innovative, logical, suggestions for reform that he argues will never be implemented under the current system.
- Prison On Trial, by Thomas Mathiesen. 2nd edition (2000)
. Written by a Norwegian sociologist. Covers all the arguments & research behind the various defenses of prisons, and concludes that the practice has no defense.
Capitalist Punishment: Prison Privatization and Human Rights edited by Rodney Neufeld, Allison Campbell, Andrew Coyle (2003)
Prison Nation: The Warehousing of America's Poor edited by Tara Herivel and Paul Wright (2003)
No Equal Justice: Race and Class in the American Criminal Justice System by
David Cole (1999)
Hard Time Blues: How Politics Built a Prison Nation by Sasha Abramsky, 2002
A history -- through the life of a three strikes prisoner -- of how Gov. Pete Wilson and California lead the imprisonment boom in the 1990s.
and Punishment in America by Elliot Currie (1998)
Innovative ideas on how to measure recidivism, argues against the quest for quick & cheap solutions to the serious issues like crime.
Further demonizes people convicted of non-drug offenses. Second half of the book is less relevant.
Currie gets credit for boldly attacking the idea that crime can be addressed by something other than massive social spending to end poverty.
- Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, by Jeffrey Reiman.
Unique theory, purpose of criminal justice system is to FAIL in the fight against crime.
Great for examining how crime is defined and its relationship to crime control. Something is wrong when possessing crack is defined as a crime, but having your employees die preventable, predictable deaths is not defined as murder.
the political priorities that makes defining crack sales as a crime but allowing preventable workplace injures This is the best book I know of for examining how the definition of crime has been developed.
- Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis, by Christian Parenti (1999)
The Real War on Crime: The Report of the National Criminal Justice Commission, edited by Steven Donziger (1996)
More easy to find facts in this book than anywhere else.
Getting dated, written by a committee so the recommendations are all over the place
- The Perpetual Prisoner Machine: How America Profits from Crime, by Joel Dyer (2000)
Examines how prisons expansion props up the economy
A bit economic reductionist.
- Last One Over the Wall: The Massachusetts Experiment in Closing Reform Schools, by Jerome Miller (1991)
Book length details from the top on the first deinstitutionalization experiment.
It's a personal narrative from the former embattled head of the department written fifteen years after the incidents.
Besides the unique perspective, this book wins for simultaneously giving an in-depth analysis of why institutions oppose change and for so beautifully humanizing the recipients of repressive "helping".
Chaingangs, U.S. prison history, etc.
Gideon's Trumpet: How one lonely man, a poor prisoner, took his case to the Supreme Court -- and changed the law of the United States, by Anthony Lewis
How the guarantee of a lawyer at criminal trials was created
Written in 1964
Describes the Gideon case, and its context very well. Also serves as a great introduction to the Constitution, the Supreme Court and Constitutional law.
Acres of Skin: Human experiments in Holmesburg prison, a true story of abuse and exploitation in the name of medical science by Allen Hornblum (1998)
Impressive book about the work at the prison in the decades after World War 2. Contains excellent summary of prisoner exploitation throughout the U.S. and how this common U.S. practice was successfully used by Nazi doctors in their war crimes trials at Nuremburg
Awesome book. (Update: The book states at the end chapter 3 that the FDA banned prisoners from being used in medical tests because prisoners could never give true informed consent. The federal regulation was suspended immediately upon passage, and it was formally repealed in 1997. Medical experimentation still goes on. Details unknown. (Somebody write a book!)
'Worse Than Slavery': Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice by David Oshinsky. (1996)
Wonderful analysis of how race and crime were viewed in the South from 1865 to 1972. Strong, beautiful writing. Had I known that the book was so much broader than the title implied, I'd have read it a year earlier. My loss. This book is an excellent starting point for an understanding of why Americans are so crazy about crime.
Am a Fugitive from the Georgia Chaingang! by Robert Burns
A bit long and melodramatic for a modern audience.
The forward to this edition contains
good context on the book and the process of writing it.)
Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chaingang! by Robert Burns, introduction by
Alex Lichtenstein. True Story, good length. Introduction has good information and context on the Georgia Chaingang system. This version of the book is abridged to shorten the coverage
of Burns periods of freedom. This is probably more appropriate for a modern
- I am a Fugitive from a Chaingang! VHS 1932 movie with Paul Muni based on the book by Robert Burns
Great film. A bit melodramatic at the end, understates role of race
This movie helped bring down chaingangs the first time. (What will it take now?)
the Work of Free Labor: The Political Economy of Convict Labor in the New South
by Alex Lichtenstein
Explains the political economy of the chain gangs and the politization of crime after the Civil War
Georgia Nigger by John Spivak.
Investigative journalism of Georgia chain gangs. Contains
pictures and copies of documents.
A bit dry.
More empirical than I am a fugitive.
With Liberty for Some: 500 years of Imprisonment in America, by Scott Christianson (1998)
- Constitutional Rights of Prisoners by John W. Palmer, Stephen E. Palmer. 6th Edition (1999)
- Prisoners' Self-Help Litigation Manual by Daniel Manville. 3rd edition (1995)
- Jailhouse Lawyer's Manual by Columbia Human Rights Law Review. 5th edition (2000)
link goes direct to the publisher.
Proximity to Death, by William S. McFeely (1999)
Struggle for Justice: A Report on Crime and Punishment in America, by American Friends Service Committee (1971)
The Crime Drop in America, edited by Alfred Blumstein and Joel Wallman (2000)
Kind & Usual Punishment: The Prison Business by Jessica Mitford (1973)
Beyond Loneliness and Institutions: Communes for Extraordinary People by Nils Christie (1989)
Limits to Pain by Nils Christie (1981)
(Link goes to free online version!)
On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (1995)
Prisons: Houses of Darkness, Leonard Orland (1975)
Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic, James Gilligan, MD (1997)
The New Red Barn A Critical Look at the Modern American Prison, by William G Nagel (1973)
The Human Cage: A Brief History of Prison Architecture, by Norman Johnston (1973)
The Price of Punishment: Prisons in Massachusetts (1974)
(Link goes to online version!)
Instead of Prisons: A Handbook for Abolitionists by Prison Research Education Action Project (1976)
(Link goes to online version!)
Taking Life Imprisonment Seriously: In National and International Law by Dirk Van Zyl Smit (2002)
Imprisonment Today and Tomorrow International Perspectives on Prisoners' Rights and Prison Conditions edited by Dirk Van Zyl Smit and Frieder Dunkel (2001)
Prison Officers and their World by Kelsey Kauffman (1988)
Prison Labour: Salvation or Slavery?: International Perspectives
Edited by Dirk Van Zyl Smit and Frieder Dunkel (1999)
The Rise and Fall of California's Radical Prison Movement, by Eric Cummins (1994)
Prison Slavery by Barbara Esposito and Lee Wood (1982)
Criminal Injustice: Confronting the Prison Crisis, edited by Elihu Rosenblatt (1996)
No More Prisons by William Upski Wimsatt (1999?)
Comrade George: An Investigation into the Life, Political Thought and Assasination of George Jackson by Eric Mann (1972)
Cell 2455, Death Row, by Caryl Chessman (1954)
The Face of Justice, by Caryl Chessman (1957)
- Trial by Ordeal, by Caryl Chessman
The Oxford History of the Prison: The Practice of Punishment in Western Society, edited by Norval Morris and David Rothman (1998)
The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States, by Alexander Keyssar (2000)
Slavery and the Founders: Race and Liberty in the Age of Jefferson, by Paul Finkelman (2001)