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Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics

Marie Gottschalk
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 496
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The huge prison buildup of the past four decades has few defenders today, yet reforms to reduce the number of people in U.S. jails and prisons have been remarkably modest. Meanwhile, a carceral state has sprouted in the shadows of mass imprisonment, extending its reach far beyond the prison gate. It includes not only the country's vast archipelago of jails and prisons but also the growing range of penal punishments and controls that lie in the never-never land between prison and full citizenship, from probation and parole to immigrant detention, felon disenfranchisement, and extensive lifetime restrictions on sex offenders. As it sunders families and communities and reworks conceptions of democracy, rights, and citizenship, this ever-widening carceral state poses a formidable political and social challenge.

    In this book, Marie Gottschalk examines why the carceral state, with its growing number of outcasts, remains so tenacious in the United States. She analyzes the shortcomings of the two dominant penal reform strategies-one focused on addressing racial disparities, the other on seeking bipartisan, race-neutral solutions centered on reentry, justice reinvestment, and reducing recidivism.

    In this bracing appraisal of the politics of penal reform, Gottschalk exposes the broader pathologies in American politics that are preventing the country from solving its most pressing problems, including the stranglehold that neoliberalism exerts on public policy. She concludes by sketching out a promising alternative path to begin dismantling the carceral state.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5214-7
    Subjects: Political Science, Law, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Introduction The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics
    (pp. 1-22)

    Fifteen years ago, mass imprisonment was largely an invisible issue in the United States. Since then, criticism of the country’s extraordinary incarceration rate has become widespread across the political spectrum. The huge prison buildup of the past four decades has few ardent defenders today. But reforms to reduce the number of people in jail and prison have been remarkably modest so far.

    Meanwhile, a tenacious carceral state has sprouted in the shadows of mass imprisonment and has been extending its reach far beyond the prison gate. It includes not only the country’s vast archipelago of jails and prisons, but also...


    • CHAPTER TWO Show Me the Money The Great Recession and the Great Confinement
      (pp. 25-47)

      The 2008 financial meltdown provided an important political opening to rethink the direction of U.S. penal policies. The economic crisis created high expectations that the United States would begin slashing its prison and jail population because it could no longer afford to keep so many people locked up. As Attorney General Eric Holder told the American Bar Association in 2009, the country’s high incarceration rate is “unsustainable economically.”² But mounting budgetary and fiscal pressures will not be enough on their own to spur cities, counties, states, and the federal government to make deep and lasting cuts in their incarceration in...

    • CHAPTER THREE Squaring the Political Circle The New Political Economy of the Carceral State
      (pp. 48-78)

      The forces that launched the prison boom are not identical to the ones that sustain the carceral state today. The punitive turn was at the start primarily a political project, not an economic one. But the prison boom created powerful economic actors with close ties to the political sector who are deeply vested today in the carceral state. These include prison guards’ unions, the private prison industry, segments of the financial sector, and other private-sector interests.

      These groups have been deeply engaged in a project to reengineer the carceral state so that it can withstand calls for its retrenchment or...

    • CHAPTER FOUR What Second Chance? Reentry and Penal Reform
      (pp. 79-97)

      The Great Recession created momentum to reconsider U.S. penal policies. But as in other areas of public policy, the extensive neoliberal consensus at the elite level has radically diminished the sense of what’s possible. Most of the political energy among legislators, other government officials, leading foundations, and think tanks has been fixated on the three R’s—reentry, recidivism, and justice reinvestment. Left unaddressed and unacknowledged is the R question—that is, the gross racial and other disparities and injustices on which the carceral state rests.

      The three-R solution, as shown in this and the next chapter, is infused with the...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Caught Again Justice Reinvestment and Recidivism
      (pp. 98-116)

      The justice reinvestment movement was born more than a decade ago during the 2001–2003 recession. Its original premise was that a sizable portion of the billions of dollars spent on prisons and jails each year could be better spent on rebuilding the communities devastated by mass incarceration. Susan B. Tucker and Eric Cadora, who coined the term justice reinvestment, called for redirecting much of that money toward improving health care, education, employment programs, and public infrastructure in these communities.² They did not pitch justice reinvestment primarily as a way to save money and slash government budgets. Instead, they emphasized...


    • CHAPTER SIX Is Mass Incarceration the “New Jim Crow”? Racial Disparities and the Carceral State
      (pp. 119-138)

      Some leading critics of the carceral state contend that racial animus, cloaked by institutional racism and ostensibly color-blind policies and laws, is the main engine of mass incarceration in the United States. In their view, any penal reform movement seeking to dismantle the carceral state must first and foremost target the country’s deep, widespread, and persistent racism in its many manifestations.¹ In the words of Michelle Alexander, the carceral state is best understood as a new type of “racial caste system” akin to Jim Crow.²

      Many criminologists, practitioners, and other experts on crime and punishment recoil from likening the causes...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN What’s Race Got to Do with It? Bolstering and Challenging the Carceral State
      (pp. 139-162)

      Punitive sentiments and punitive policies emerge from many sources, including but certainly not limited to racial factors. Race becomes more politically salient in penal policy under certain conditions, especially when public figures give their permission “to dislike ‘others.’”¹ But this “permission to dislike” takes many forms, as politicians and other public figures recalibrate their strategies and rhetoric in light of changing political, economic, social, and demographic circumstances.

      Broad explanations like the new Jim Crow, color-blind racism, and racial animus can obscure the varied, shifting, and subtle forms that this “permission to dislike” has taken in the development of the carceral...


    • CHAPTER EIGHT Split Verdict The Non, Non, Nons and the “Worst of the Worst”
      (pp. 165-195)

      Legislators and policy makers at all levels of government have been exploring ways to reduce their prison and jail populations by revising their criminal codes, establishing new parole and probation policies, and pursuing alternatives to incarceration. They have concentrated their efforts on how to shorten the prison stays of nonviolent, nonserious, and nonsexual offenders (the so-called non, non, nons) and how to keep them out of prison altogether.¹

      This political strategy of drawing a firm distinction between the non, non, nons on the one hand, and violent offenders, sex offenders, and criminal aliens on the other has yielded some worthwhile...

    • CHAPTER NINE The New Untouchables The War on Sex Offenders
      (pp. 196-214)

      Over the past two decades, sex offenders have become a major target of political energy and public fears in the United States. It is hard to imagine a group of offenders that has fewer advocates than they do. Despised, vilified, and misrepresented in the media, sex offenders are widely viewed as noncitizens entitled to little more than a “bare life” that has been “stripped of the political and legal rights” that shield much of the rest of the society.¹ The incapacitation, containment, and banishment of convicted sex offenders dominate discussions of how to stem sexual abuse in the United States...

    • CHAPTER TEN Catch and Keep The Criminalization of Immigrants
      (pp. 215-240)

      Major changes in immigration policy and in the government’s capa city to implement these changes have become important new drivers of the carceral state. Federal and local authorities have been detaining a rising number of immigrants—both documented and undocumented—in jails, prisons, and detention centers. The Obama administration has deported a record number of immigrants, many of whom pose no risk to public safety and have extensive family and other ties to the United States. The amount that the federal government now spends on immigration enforcement exceeds funding for all principal federal law enforcement agencies combined.² These developments have...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN The Prison beyond the Prison The Carceral State and Growing Political and Economic Inequalities in the United States
      (pp. 241-257)

      Alexis de Tocqueville’s paeans to democracy inDemocracy in Americaare widely cited. Less well known is that Tocqueville originally came to the United States in the early nineteenth century to study its penitentiaries, which had become world-famous by the 1830s. Tocqueville collected notes for his classic study of the social and political conditions of the new republic as he traveled from prison to prison, interviewing wardens and prisoners and collecting information about everything from living conditions to disciplinary practices.

      Tocqueville’s dark observations about the connection between the penal system and American democracy are seldom noted. But nearly two centuries ago...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Bring It On The Future of Penal Reform, the Carceral State, and American Politics
      (pp. 258-282)

      The carceral state is deeply entangled in the political, economic, and social fabric of the United States. But in plotting a way out, we must guard against succumbing to “dystopian despair.”² We need to resist the belief that the only way to raze the carceral state is to tackle the “root causes” of crime—massive unemployment, massive poverty, and unconscionable levels of social and economic inequality stratified by race, ethnicity, and gender. Ameliorating the deeper structural problems that foster such high levels of inequality in U.S. society is an admirable goal. But if the aim is to slash the country’s...

  9. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 283-284)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 285-410)
  11. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 411-438)
  12. Index
    (pp. 439-474)