Mass Incarceration on Trial: A Remarkable Court Decision and the Future of Prisons in America

Mass Incarceration on Trial: A Remarkable Court Decision and the Future of Prisons in America

by Jonathan Simon


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For nearly forty years the United States has been gripped by policies that have placed more than 2.5 million Americans in jails and prisons designed to hold a fraction of that number of inmates. Our prisons are not only vast and overcrowded, they are degrading—relying on racist gangs, lockdowns, and Supermax-style segregation units to maintain a tenuous order.

Mass Incarceration on Trial examines a series of landmark decisions about prison conditions—culminating in Brown v. Plata, decided in May 2011 by the U.S. Supreme Court—that has opened an unexpected escape route from this trap of “tough on crime” politics. This set of rulings points toward values that could restore legitimate order to American prisons and, ultimately, lead to the demise of mass incarceration. Simon argues that much like the school segregation cases of the last century, these new cases represent a major breakthrough in jurisprudence—moving us from a hollowed-out vision of civil rights to the threshold of human rights and giving court backing for the argument that, because the conditions it creates are fundamentally cruel and unusual, mass incarceration is inherently unconstitutional.

Since the publication of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, states around the country have begun to question the fundamental fairness of our criminal justice system. This book offers a provocative and brilliant reading to the end of mass incarceration.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781595587695
Publisher: New Press, The
Publication date: 08/05/2014
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Jonathan Simon is an Adrian A. Kragen Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. His most recent book, Governing through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear, won the American Sociology Association’s 2008 Sociology of Law Book Prize and the 2010 Hindelang Prize of the American Society of Criminology. He lives in Berkeley, California.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Inhuman Punishment 1

1 Total Incapacitation: The 1970s and the Birth of an Extreme Penology 17

2 The House of Fear: Dignity and Risk in Madrid v. Gomez 47

3 Engines of Madness: Coleman v. Wilson 73

4 Torture on the Installment Plan: Prisons Without Medicine in Plata v. Davis 87

5 Places of Extreme Peril: Coleman-Plata v. Schwarzenegger and California's Prisons in the Era of Chronic Hyper-Overcrowding 109

6 Dignity Cascade: Brown v. Plata and Mass Incarceration as a Human Rights Problem 133

7 The New Common Sense of High-Crime Societies 155

Notes 173

Index 199

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