cover image A World Apart: Women, Prison, and Life Behind Bars

A World Apart: Women, Prison, and Life Behind Bars

Cristina Rathbone, . . Random, $24.95 (304pp) ISBN 978-1-4000-6166-2

The number of men in American prisons has doubled in the past 20 years; the number of women incarcerated in the U.S.—now approaching a million—has quintupled during the same period. Journalist Rathbone (On the Outside Looking In ) fought in the courts for years to secure access to these women, and her passion and tenacity are on display in this sympathetic but clear-eyed account of life inside Massachusetts's MCI-Framingham, the oldest women's prison in the country. The numbing sameness of women's crimes—nonviolent offenses, mostly drug-related, make up three-fourths of female convictions—is transcended by Rathbone's focus on a handful of individual stories, and women like the vivacious Julie and the tragic, sorrowful Denise emerge as potent reminders of the messy human particularity crowded into America's prisons. The book wisely avoids the temptation to frame these women as mere passive victims of a system or culture gone awry, although Rathbone does not hesitate to expose inefficiency, thoughtlessness and even abuse at all levels of the correctional bureaucracy. Poor psychological care, mandatory sentencing laws and institutionalized sexual exploitation also come in for heavy, thoughtful criticism. (July)