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Robert A. Ferguson
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Robert Ferguson diagnoses all parts of a massive, out-of-control punishment regime. Turning the spotlight on the plight of prisoners, he asks the American people, Do we want our prisons to be this way? Acknowledging the suffering of prisoners and understanding what punishers do when they punish are the first steps toward a better, more just system.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-36993-1
    Subjects: Law, History, Sociology, Philosophy, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction: The Intractable Problem
    (pp. 1-8)

    You are afraid all the time, and there is good reason to fear. You are alone with enemies all around you. No one cares about you. You can be attacked where you are, but it is more dangerous when you must move in the open. Groups roam the territory looking for victims. You cannot hide. Your only weapon is yourself. There is no authority to call on that you trust. Over and over you ask, “How did it come to this?” But it has come to this and for the foreseeable future

    Who are you? Where are you? You are...

  5. 1 Punishment Misunderstood
    (pp. 9-31)

    Must suffering make sense? It can make sense with either more or less pain inflicted depending on the period in which you lived, and the question itself remains fundamental to many disciplines, especially theology, medicine, psychology, and political science. Pain, sometimes unbearable pain, comes to every life, and we tolerate it better if we have an explanation of the reasons for it.

    In religious understandings, the question turns on acceptance of a divine plan. In medicine, diagnosis and mitigation are hallmarks. Psychology treats the mental anguish that we cause to ourselves and to others. Political science studies collective levels of...

  6. 2 The Rachet Effect in Theory
    (pp. 32-64)

    Serious thought about limiting punishment is relatively modern in the long history of ideas. It does not emerge in sustained philosophical inquiry until the Enlightenment, and like so many other conceptions from that explosion in thought, its formulations remain controversial.¹ Many of these controversies will concern us here, but they begin in a commonality worth noting. They all owe their existence to the same source, a breathtaking shift in human understanding at work in eighteenth–century exchange. The Enlightenment—with its calls on reason, intricacy of method, human value, mechanism, and a triumphant individuality—marks the distinction between modern life...

  7. 3 The Mixed Signs in Suffering
    (pp. 65-94)

    Below the level of theory but directly involved in it and complicating it are the simpler physicalities in punishment and the practical difficulties in talking about them. The mental and bodily pains in punishment may be its most apparent characteristics, but both are poorly understood, difficult to translate, and hard to hold in place long enough to make the precise decision that the law expects of itself. The pain for a person may be immediate, even exact. The communicated intensity, the impact, and the price of it plunge the subject into a wilderness of misunderstandings where the import of punishment...

  8. 4 The Legal Punishers
    (pp. 95-137)

    Less visible than other parts of the law but vivid in implication, a punishment regime exists inside every legal process. From outside, a punishment regime is hidden from view; inside, it dominates the institutional momentum of its ostensible overlord, the law, even as it remains mostly unseen.² How can it both dominate and remain hidden? Defense counsel, procedural regularities, and basic legal rights provide safeguards, but punishment regimes operate across a legal system, not just within or at the end of it. Unless directly involved, we know the punishers in law through a vague euphemism: “law enforcement.”

    The limited public...

  9. 5 The Legally Punished
    (pp. 138-169)

    The hardest chapter for most readers will be this one. Prison punishment has no bottom, and although there is no end to ugliness in the descent, we must take it. Responsibility for massive incarceration and what might be done about it depend on awareness. We have to see the punishment ground for what it is to ask one of the important questions. Do we know what we are doing?

    The easiest preliminary answer is also the most tragic, and it responds to the puzzle raised at the end of the last chapter. The relation of American can slavery to contemporary...

  10. 6 The Punitive Impulse in American Society
    (pp. 170-195)

    We have seen enough to know the problem in most of its dimensions. Punishment is a volatile subject for what it does to people, and it is not easily understood or appreciated. Theoretically in conception and institutionally in practice, it also moves toward extremes, and that has happened with unusual force in the legal punishment regimes of the United States. Moreover, the law has encouraged these tendencies, the judicial function has been insensitive to its excesses, and the entrenched oppositions in prison life stand in the way of reform even though changes are desperately needed in a dysfunctional system geared...

  11. 7 The Law against Itself
    (pp. 196-238)

    The punitive impulse has been so difficult to analyze, much less control, because it has two masters. It is in dependently the creature of society and of law, and the puzzle is in how the two pieces come together. You can, for example, trace how every state’s incarceration rate more than doubled between 1977 and 2000 by delineating the social and demographic shifts behind that increase.¹ Nevertheless, the law punishes and far more exclusively than in the past. As a recent study proves, “The machinery of criminal justice … has taken on a life of its own far removed from...

  12. Coda: The Psychology of Punishment
    (pp. 239-250)

    The distinction between condemnation and correction dramatically changes the psychology of punishment. The most powerful representation of the difference, also the greatest psychological study of punishment that we have, is a religious poem set in the last year of the thirteenth century. TheDivine Comedy,orCommedia,as it was known to its author, presents a Christian pilgrim who witnesses the divine punishment of the dead in hell and purgatory on his way to heaven. The happy ending turns the poem into a comedy, so named, but its 14,223 lines also make it the most extended monody on the theme...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 251-318)
  14. Cases Cited
    (pp. 319-320)
  15. Further Reading
    (pp. 321-324)
  16. Credits
    (pp. 325-326)
  17. Index
    (pp. 327-337)