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"Prisons Make Us Safer": And 20 Other Myths about Mass Incarceration

by Victoria Law

"Prisons Make Us Safer": And 20 Other Myths about Mass Incarceration

by Victoria Law


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An accessible guide for activists, educators, and all who are interested in understanding how the prison system oppresses communities and harms individuals.

The United States incarcerates more of its residents than any other nation. Though home to 5% of the global population, the United States has nearly 25% of the world’s prisoners—a total of over 2 million people. This number continues to steadily rise. Over the past 40 years, the number of people behind bars in the United States has increased by 500%.

Journalist Victoria Law explains how racism and social control were the catalysts for mass incarceration and have continued to be its driving force: from the post-Civil War laws that states passed to imprison former slaves, to the laws passed under the “War Against Drugs” campaign that disproportionately imprison Black people. She breaks down these complicated issues into four main parts:

   1. The rise and cause of mass incarceration
   2. Myths about prison
   3. Misconceptions about incarcerated people
   4. How to end mass incarceration

Through carefully conducted research and interviews with incarcerated people, Law identifies the 21 key myths that propel and maintain mass incarceration, including:

   • The system is broken and we simply need some reforms to fix it
   • Incarceration is necessary to keep our society safe
   • Prison is an effective way to get people into drug treatment
   • Private prison corporations drive mass incarceration

“Prisons Make Us Safer” is a necessary guide for all who are interested in learning about the cause and rise of mass incarceration and how we can dismantle it.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807029527
Publisher: Beacon Press
Publication date: 04/06/2021
Series: Myths Made in America
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 381,725
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Victoria Law has been researching and writing about incarceration, gender, and resistance since 2000. She is the author of Resistance Behind Bars and the coauthor of Prison By Any Other Name. Law has written about prisons and other forms of confinement for outlets including the New York Times, The Nation, Wired, and Bloomberg Businessweek. She is a cofounder of Books Through Bars–NYC and the longtime editor of the zine Tenacious: Art and Writings by Women in Prison. Connect with her at or on Twitter @LVikkiml.

Table of Contents

A Note on Language vii

Introduction 1

Part 1 What Drives the Mass Incarceration Boom? Myths about the Causes of Mass Incarceration

Chapter 1 The system of mass incarceration is flawed and not working as designed (or, A brief history). 9

Chapter 2 We need prisons to make us safer. 17

Chapter 3 Prisons are places of rehabilitation. 25

Chapter 4 Private prison corporations drive mass incarceration. 33

Chapter 5 Private corporations and profit from prison labor drive mass incarceration. 40

Chapter 6 Race has nothing to do with mass incarceration (or, If people of color are disproportionately incarcerated, it's because they commit more crimes). 49

Chapter 7 "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time." People need to take personal responsibility for their actions. 56

Part 2 The Myths of Prisons as Service Providers and Safety Nets

Chapter 8 Jails and prisons provide people with needed mental health care. 65

Chapter 9 People in prison "jump the line" for life-saving medical care. 74

Chapter 10 Incarceration is an effective way to get people into drug treatment. 83

Part 3 The Invisible People Behind the Walls

Chapter 11 Mass incarceration only affects Black cisgender men. 91

Chapter 12 Bringingup a history of abuse and violence is simply an "abuse excuse." 99

Chapter 13 Mass incarceration and immigrant detention are unrelated issues that can be addressed separately. 107

Part 4 How Do We End Mass Incarceration?

Chapter 14 Most people are in prison for nonviolent drug offenses. Let them out and we'll end mass incarceration. 117

Chapter 15 People in prison don't resist or organize against abusive conditions. 125

Chapter 16 Prisons keep us safe from murderers and rapists. 132

Chapter 17 Incarceration and sex offender registries are necessary to keep our children safe. 141

Chapter 18 The system is broken and we simply need some reforms to fix it. 149

Chapter 19 We should make our prisons more like those in Norway. 158

Chapter 20 Prisons are the only logical and evident way to address violent crime and meet the needs of victims. 165

Chapter 21 Even if societal and political conditions are to blame, there's nothing we can do about it. 173

For Further Reading 181

Acknowledgments 183

Notes 187

Index 218

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