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Gates of Injustice: The Crisis in America's Prisons (Financial Times Prentice Hall Books Series)

Gates of Injustice: The Crisis in America's Prisons (Financial Times Prentice Hall Books Series)

5.0 2
by Alan Elsner
Gates of Injustice is a compelling exposé of the U.S. prison system: it tells how more than 2 million Americans came to be incarcerated … what it's really like on the inside … and how a giant "prison-industrial complex" promotes imprisonment over other solutions.

Alan Elsner paints a terrifying picture of how our prisons really work. You'll


Gates of Injustice is a compelling exposé of the U.S. prison system: it tells how more than 2 million Americans came to be incarcerated … what it's really like on the inside … and how a giant "prison-industrial complex" promotes imprisonment over other solutions.

Alan Elsner paints a terrifying picture of how our prisons really work. You'll hear how race-based gangs control institutions and prey on the weak--and how a rape epidemic has swept the U.S. prison system. You'll discover the plight of 300,000 mentally ill prisoners, many abandoned to suffer with grossly inadequate medical care.

Elsner takes you inside "supermax" prisons that deny inmates human contact and reveals official corruption and brutality within U.S. jails. You'll also learn how prisons help to spread infectious diseases throughout society … one of the ways the prison crisis touches you, even if you've never had a brush with the law.

  • 2 million prisoners: how it happened and why. Why the United States locks away 6-10 times more people than other Western societies.
  • The other victims. What it's like for convicts' families left on the outside.
  • No place for the sick or weak. Prison medical care: varying from substandard to shocking.
  • Life after prison: the realities of parole. What's supposed to happen … and what really happens.
  • The "prison-industrial" complex: The hidden politics of imprisonment.

Product Details

FT Press
Publication date:
Financial Times Prentice Hall Books Series
Product dimensions:
6.07(w) x 9.03(h) x 0.64(d)
1220L (what's this?)

Read an Excerpt


This book is a guide to a land that most readers will never visit—the world of U.S. prisons and jails. Like any travel book, it profiles the people that live in this land, outlines their customs, history, geography and language and lists the many dangers that lurk. It also provides key facts about the local currency, food and health care.

Readers may ask, Why would anyone want to visit this forbidding land, even in a book? After all, we're never going there. Why should we want to know what really goes on in America's prisons? Why should we care about the massive growth of the U.S. penal system over the past quarter century? Why should we worry about the racial inequalities? Why do we need to be told about the abuses? Why should we bother about the plight of the hundreds of thousands of mentally ill people kept behind bars, about the thousands of men subjected to rape, about women abused and harassed, about those left in solitary confinement for months and years on end with virtually no human contact? What has all this got to do with us?

I offer three answers. First, this book is not in fact about some remote foreign country that has nothing to do with us. It is about the United States, the global superpower. For those of us who live here, if we believe that we are all, in a deep sense, one nation and one family, then how can we ignore the plight of so many of our brothers and sisters, our cousins, our neighbors, our fellow citizens?

President George W. Bush acknowledged this in his State of the Union Address on January 20, 2004. Asking Congress for $300 million to help prisoners who had served their sentences reintegrate into society, the President said, "America is the land of the second chance and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life."

Bush's words showed that prisons and the plight of prisoners are climbing higher on the nation's agenda. Unfortunately, as this book shows, America too often is not the land of the second chance for those behind bars, and when the gates open, there is no path ahead.

Second, try as we might, we Americans cannot separate ourselves from the world of jails and prisons. Ten million people cycle through our jails every year. The abuses they endure, the diseases they contract, the traumas they suffer inevitably come back to haunt the rest of society. There is no Iron Curtain separating them from us. They are us.

Third, as members of an old and proud democracy, respect for human rights is a central and vital part of who we are. We champion human rights all around the world. It's one of the most important American values. Yet, increasingly, other people do not take us seriously. We are seen as self-righteous and hypocritical. We criticize others but not ourselves.

Each spring, the State Department issues a report on the state of human rights in every nation on the globe. Secretary of State Colin Powell wrote these words in the introduction to the report issued in March 2003 (U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2002. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Washington. March 31, 2003):

We gain little by ignoring human rights abuses or flinching from reporting them. ... But in truth, no country is exempt from scrutiny, and all countries benefit from constant striving to identify their weaknesses and improve their performance in this less-than-perfect world.

The report covered 196 countries, but it left out one—the United States of America.

This book holds up a mirror for us to examine one aspect of our nation. It does not always make for comfortable viewing. The face staring back at us is not the perfect, unblemished image we would all wish to see. But it is better to confront the truth without flinching than to behave like Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray, who concealed his ugliness behind a false veneer of physical perfection. We must acknowledge our imperfections.

As the Scripture teaches us, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free" (Gospel of St. John, 8:32).

Alan Elsner, Washington, D.C., January 2004

Meet the Author

Alan Elsner has written extensively about conditions in jails and prisons, visiting institutions in a dozen states to meet with inmates, lawyers, corrections officers, medical staff, religious volunteers, family members and law enforcement. He has 25 years' experience in journalism, covering stories ranging from the September 11, 2001 attacks on America and the Arab-Israeli conflict to the 2000 presidential election and the end of the Cold War. Elsner is currently National Correspondent for Reuters news agency. For more information, visit .

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Gates of Injustice: The Crisis in America's Prisons 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a very fine work on a serious subject which impacts us all. The author judiciously combines hard facts and statistics with 'human stories' to present a compelling argument as to why the 'crisis in America's prisons' needs to be heeded by everyone. The real strength of the book is that it doesn't matter what end of the political spectrum you come from or what your views on punishment vs. rehabilitation are. In the final analysis, basic rational self-interest dictates that the central problems identified in this book - massively rising costs, the creation of a permanent criminal underclass who are 'recycled' back into society, catastrophic mistreatment of the mentally ill and the spread of infectious diseases - need to be addressed by society as a whole because none of us are insulated from their effects. Of course it hardly needs to be said that many of the stories, particularly those about the mal-treatment of highly vulnerable inmates - the physically weak, the mentally ill and the young - are heartbreaking and I don't want to downplay this aspect of the book as it's one of its great strengths. However for the many who chose to paint their world view on a black and white 'good guys vs. bad guys' canvas (and, I'd suggest that it's this way of thinking, at least in part, that has contributed to the current problems), this book should be equally persuasive. In the words of the Reagan-appointed Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is quoted in the final chapter of the book: '...Our resources are misspent, our punishments too severe, our sentences too long'. I'd like to finish this review with a question inspired by this book: at a time when America has invested so much in spreading it's message of civilization and democracy abroad, how is this aided by many of its own States still requiring that incarcerated pregnant women deliver their offspring in shackles ?
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you only read one book about the U.S. prison system, this should be the one. It covers the entire spectrum. Some of the stories should make our hair stand on end. All Americans need to know what is going on in our prisons and jails and this book tells it like it is.