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The Jail

The Jail: Managing the Underclass in American Society

John Irwin
With a New Foreword by Jonathan Simon
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 176
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt7zw3k8
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  • Book Info
    The Jail
    Book Description:

    Combining extensive interviews with his own experience as an inmate, John Irwin constructs a powerful and graphic description of the big-city jail. Unlike prisons, which incarcerate convicted felons, jails primarily confine arrested persons not yet charged or convicted of any serious crime. Irwin argues that rather than controlling the disreputable, jail disorients and degrades these people, indoctrinating new recruits to the rabble class. In a forceful conclusion, Irwin addresses the issue of jail reform and the matter of social control demanded by society. Reissued more than twenty years after its initial publication with a new foreword by Jonathon Simon,The Jailremains an extraordinary account of the role jails play in America's crisis of mass incarceration.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95745-9
    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 Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xxii)
    Jonathan Simon

    John K. Irwin was the leading social scientist of the American carceral enterprise from the middle of the twentieth century through the first decade of the twenty-first (and the most successful former prisoner in American social science in the same period). Each of Irwin’s five books on American incarceration is a superb study of distinct topics in the scholarly study of punishment, law, and society; for example, the status hierarchy among American convicts at midcentury inThe Felon(1970), or the impact of civil rights on the racial order of prisons during the 1960s and 1970s inPrisons in Turmoil...

  5. Preface
    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxvii-xxviii)
  7. 1 Managing Rabble
    (pp. 1-17)

    In a legal sense, the jail is the point of entry into the criminal justice system. It is the place where arrested persons are booked and where they are held for their court appearances if they cannot arrange bail. It is also the city or county detention facility for persons serving misdemeanor sentences, which in most states cannot exceed one year. The prison, on the other hand, is a state or federal institution that holds persons serving felony sentences, which generally run to more than one year.

    The public impression is that the jail holds a collection of dangerous criminals....

  8. 2 Who Is Arrested?
    (pp. 18-41)

    The vast majority of the persons who are arrested, booked, and held in jail are not charged with serious crimes. They are charged with petty ones or with behavior that is no crime at all. And the jail, unlike the prison, has little to do with serious crime. Its primary purpose is to receive and hold persons because they are “offensive.” These conclusions are based on an analysis of two samples of a jail’s intake population: 100 felony arrests and 100 misdemeanor arrests randomly selected over a one-year period from the booking record of the San Francisco City and County...

  9. 3 Disintegration
    (pp. 42-52)

    When the police bring arrested persons to the jail, their obvious intention is that the “offenders” be held there, tried for their crimes, and then, if found guilty, punished. This is the official purpose of jailing people. But the jail—like most public institutions—has other unstated purposes as well, and these often produce undesirable, unintended consequences.

    To understand fully the jail’s purposes, we must keep in mind that it is intended to hold the rabble, not other persons. Reputable people commit crimes and occasionally are arrested; but it has never been social policy to keep them in jail while...

  10. 4 Disorientation
    (pp. 53-66)

    The process of being arrested and held in jail often produces a profound state of internal disorganization and demoralization. This state is the opposite of “having it together,” a popular metaphor for an internal discipline, a spirit, and a set of habits that equip persons to cope with the complexities of modern society. (One can be anxious, neurotic, or even borderline psychotic and still “have it together” in the sense meant here.) To maintain a position in conventional society, one must have the motivation to get up on time, keep appointments, find a new job or a new apartment, and...

  11. 5 Degradation
    (pp. 67-84)

    Prisoners receive much more than the treatment required to introduce them to the jail and hold them there. They are impersonally and systematically degraded by every step in the criminal justice process, from arrest through detention to court appearance. They are also degraded personally by the hostility and contempt directed at them by police officers, deputies, and other criminal justice functionaries.

    Even when police officers act in a polite and professional manner, an arrest is degrading to all but the seasoned rabble. In making an arrest, officers occasionally invade a person’s private space—a home, office, or workplace—and remove...

  12. 6 Preparation
    (pp. 85-100)

    While serving as a social institution for controlling the rabble, the jail also supports and maintains the rabble class. For the rabble, it is a meeting house, a place where they find new friends and reconnect with old ones who share common goals and interests. It is a convalescent center, a place where the ailing and tired among them can rest, heal, and ready themselves for another effort at living outside. It is a place where those among them who were migrating back toward a conventional lifestyle are reoriented and reattached to the rabble life. And it is a place...

  13. 7 Rabble, Crime, and the Jail
    (pp. 101-118)

    Over the years, scholars and critics have made many recommendations for diminishing the worst effects of the jail. They have suggested that a high percentage of the jail’s intake population could be eliminated through decriminalization. According to Hans Mattick:

    Decriminalization does not imply social approval of conduct previously defined as criminal. It simply asserts what has become historically evident: that criminal law is not equally effective in dealing with all forms of individual and social deviance, and that it is time to deal with such conduct, insofar as it remains problematic after the criminal stigma has been removed, by more...

  14. Appendix
    (pp. 119-122)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 123-134)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 135-140)
  17. Index
    (pp. 141-148)