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Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California

Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 412
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  • Book Info
    Golden Gulag
    Book Description:

    Since 1980, the number of people in U.S. prisons has increased more than 450%. Despite a crime rate that has been falling steadily for decades, California has led the way in this explosion, with what a state analyst called "the biggest prison building project in the history of the world."Golden Gulagprovides the first detailed explanation for that buildup by looking at how political and economic forces, ranging from global to local, conjoined to produce the prison boom. In an informed and impassioned account, Ruth Wilson Gilmore examines this issue through statewide, rural, and urban perspectives to explain how the expansion developed from surpluses of finance capital, labor, land, and state capacity. Detailing crises that hit California's economy with particular ferocity, she argues that defeats of radical struggles, weakening of labor, and shifting patterns of capital investment have been key conditions for prison growth. The results-a vast and expensive prison system, a huge number of incarcerated young people of color, and the increase in punitive justice such as the "three strikes" law-pose profound and troubling questions for the future of California, the United States, and the world.Golden Gulagprovides a rich context for this complex dilemma, and at the same time challenges many cherished assumptions about who benefits and who suffers from the state's commitment to prison expansion.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93803-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xx)
  6. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
    (pp. 1-4)

    One midnight in the middle of April, late in the twentieth century, a bus pulled out of the Holman Methodist Church parking lot. Traveling a short way along the northern boundary of South Central Los Angeles, it geared up a ramp into the web of state and federal highways that connect California’s diverse industrial, agricultural, and recreational landscapes into the fifth-largest economy in the world. On the bus, forty women, men, and children settled in for the seven-hour journey north to Sacramento and the state capitol.

    A dream crowd rode for freedom: red, black, brown, yellow, and white; mothers, fathers,...

    (pp. 5-29)

    This book is about the phenomenal growth of California’s state prison system since 1982 and grassroots opposition to the expanding use of prisons as catchall solutions to social problems. It asks how, why, where, and to what effect one of the planet’s richest and most diverse political economies has organized and executed a prison-building and -filling plan that government analysts have called “the biggest … in the history of the world” (Rudman and Berthelsen 1991: i). By providing answers to these questions, the book also charts changes in state structure, local and regional economies, and social identities.Golden Gulagis...

    (pp. 30-86)

    Fifth- or sixth-largest among the world’s economies, California passed the trillion dollar gross state product mark in 1997, a level nominally equal to U.S. domestic product in 1970. However, the wealthy and productive state’s poverty rate rose in the national rankings, from thirtieth in 1980 to fourteenth in 2001. Relative poverty, which compares incomes within states, also snared more households, pushing California into the company of historically poor states such as Louisiana, New Mexico, Mississippi, West Virginia, and Kentucky; with populous New York and Texas, where prisons have also expanded significantly; and with the classically bifurcated District of Columbia, which...

    (pp. 87-127)

    How did California go about “the largest prison building program in the history of the world” (Rudman and Berthelsen 1991: i)? We have already seen that California’s political economy changed significantly in the 1970s, due both to changes in the location of industrial investment—capital movement—and to “natural” disasters. Those changes, and responses to them, provided the foundation upon which new rounds of capital movement and new natural disasters were played out. These shifts produced surpluses of finance capital, land, labor, and state capacity, not all of which were politically, economically, socially, or regionally absorbed. The new California prison...

    (pp. 128-180)

    On Thursday, June 6, 1985, theCorcoran Journal(Kings County) ran a picture on page 4 of César Chavez and a local union organizer, César Arviszu, speaking to an attentive group of people, whose burnished faces, well-worn visored caps, and deep squint lines around the eyes indicated they worked outdoors in the sun. The caption identified “union organizers” and “Salyer employees” but did not mention Chavez by name. The United Farm Workers (UFW) was trying to organize field hands whose hourly pay had been cut from $6.35 to $4.75. The state’s second-largest cotton grower with 77,000 acres in production, Salyer...

    (pp. 181-240)

    Mothers Reclaiming Our Children (Mothers ROC) began to organize in November 1992 in response to a growing crisis: the intensity with which the state was locking their children, of all ages, into the criminal justice system. At the outset, the ROC consisted of only a few mothers and others, women and men, led by its founder and president, Barbara Meredith, and the life-long activist Francie Arbol. The initial project was to mobilize in defense of Meredith’s son, an ex-gangster, who had been instrumental in the historic 1992 Los Angeles gang truce. The ROC lost his case but gained the makings...

    (pp. 241-248)

    The patient reader has traveled a long way in a short book. The journey, like the one undertaken by the bus riders in the Prologue, is an adventure of possibility rather than certainty. While the outcomes to cooperative human efforts are never ever guaranteed, I certainly believe this: the lessons I’ve drawn from researching and writing these pages while simultaneously engaging in political work advise us to quit the divisions, old and new, that trap us in doomed methods of analysis and action. There are obvious divisions that, as we have seen throughout the Central Valley Mother’s ROC chapters, can...

    (pp. 249-252)

    In 2001, a group of people boarded another bus in South Central Los Angeles, this time bound for Fresno and a conference called Joining Forces: The Fight for Environmental Justice and against Prisons. Fewer rode this time, but their determination was no less fierce. They were headed to the second small conference in California bringing together rural people trying to stop the building of prisons and urban activists trying to stop the production of prisoners. Meeting was not easy, because for quite some time each group imagined that the other, in a general way, was the reason for its struggles....

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 253-280)
    (pp. 281-354)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 355-388)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 389-390)