Perpetual Prisoner Machine / Edition 1

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In The Perpetual Prisoner Machine, author Joel Dyer takes a critical look at the United States’ criminal justice system as we enter the new millennium. America has more than tripled its prison population since 1980 even though crime rates have been either flat or declining. The U.S. now incarcerates nearly two million people in its prisons and jails on any given day and over five million of its citizens are currently under some form of justice department supervision. These facts raise an obvious question: If crime rates aren’t going up, why is the prison population? The Perpetual Prisoner Machine provides the answer to this question and, shockingly, it has little to do with crime or justice. The answer is “profit.”In the 1990s, through their mutual and pension funds, millions of American investors are now unwittingly profiting from crime. As a result of America’s controversial push towards the privatization of its justice system, a growing number of well-known and politically influential U.S. Corporations—and subsequently their shareholders—are now cashing in on a prison trade whose profit potential is tied directly to the growth of the prison population. A disturbing realization, when you consider the influence that these same multi-national companies now have over our government’s policy-making process by way of their lobbyists and their ability to fill campaign coffers.The Perpetual Prisoner Machine explains how the new prison-industrial complex has capitalized upon the public’s fear of crime—which has its origins in violent media content—to help bring about the “hard on crime” policies that have led to our prison-filling, and therefore profitable, “war on crime.” In addition to a quest for profits, Dyer describes an astounding chain of events including media consolidation and globalization, advances in communication technology, and the increasing political dependence upon public opinion polls and campaign funding that have led to the creation of what the author calls “the perpetual prisoner machine,” a mechanism designed to suck the funds from social programs that diminish the crime-enhancing power of poverty and spit them into the bank accounts of those who own stock in the prison-industrial complex.Dyer concludes that powerful, market-driven forces have manipulated America into fighting a very real war against an imaginary foe. “Unfortunately,” says Dyer, “real wars have real casualties. And in this case, the victims are America’s poor, particularly those segments of our black and Hispanic population who live in poverty and who now comprise the vast majority of the new human commodity.”

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Editorial Reviews

Rocky Mountain News
Enlightening and frightening, The Perpetual Prisoner Machine is sure to disturb—and likely enrage—any American citizen...[A] moving and gripping social commentary.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This is a disturbing treatise on an Orwellian component of contemporary capitalism: the free-market takeover of the American corrections system. In the 1980s, Dyer argues, we were told that prison spending had to go up because the crime rate was going up. In the '90s, we've been told we have to spend more on prisons because the crime rate is going down, i.e., spending money works. Those with vested interests, he says, have further told the public that privatized prisons are tax-efficient boons to deindustrialized areas. Dyer provides a plausible argument that violent crime rates over the last 20 years have not fluctuated as dramatically (either up or down) as FBI statistics indicate, and that the bulk of the growth of the prison system is disproportionate to the change in the crime rate. Disproportionately growing numbers of prisoners have been nonviolent criminals, usually caught up in the war on drugs. One of Dyer's innovative observations is the "prisonization" effect: that the extreme brutality of our prison culture virtually guarantees recidivism. This is exacerbated, he argues, by prison privatization: referring to various incidents in the prisons in Colorado, Texas, New Jersey and elsewhere run by Correction Corporation of America and by Wackenhut, Dyer (Harvest of Rage) documents how the cost-cutting drive to please shareholders quickly results in negligence, danger, violence, escapes and a general air of brutalization (he finds particularly heinous the policy of randomly mixing violent and nonviolent offenders). Thus, prison has "hidden costs" to society, which Dyer illuminates. He notes that, because of the growing reliance of the "prison boom" on corporations with a bottom-line mentality, it will soon be too late to turn back the policies of extreme incarceration. Dyer supplements meticulous research with argumentative anger and verve to make a strong case that what has been called the "prison-industrial complex" is preying on largely minority and underclass segments of our society. (Jan.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Dyer, a journalist and freelance author, who has written for the and , argues that the reason the United States' prison population has continued to rise while crime rates have leveled off (and even decreased) over the last 20 years is the privatization of the criminal justice system. In a sense, crime does pay, it pays the corporations and their shareholders who have invested in the new for-profit prison industrial system. Dyer concludes that powerful market-driven forces have manipulated America into fighting a war against crime, yet there is no real enemy. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813338705
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 11/28/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 9.02 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Joel Dyer is a former editor of Boulder Weekly. His work has been featured in the New York Times, Utne Reader, and numerous other national magazines. He is the author of Harvest of Rage: Why Oklahoma City Is Only the Beginning.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 A New Commodity 9
2 The Crime Gap 27
3 Violence for Profit 53
4 Manufacturing Fear 83
5 The Politics of Public Opinion 115
6 The Weapons of War 153
7 Collateral Damage 177
8 Same Old Logic, Same Old Problems 199
9 The Hidden Costs of Private Prisons 223
10 Sidestepping the Restraints of Democracy 239
11 Pulling the Plug 265
Notes 283
Index 309
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