Mass Incarceration on Trial: A Remarkable Court Decision and the Future of Prisons in America

Jonathan Simon. New Press, $26.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-59558-769-5
UC Berkeley criminologist Simon (Governing Through Crime) offers an eloquent critique of the American prison system and uses several Supreme Court cases to examine the development of new jurisprudence that might end mass incarceration. His sketch of the history of mass incarceration attends to interlocking issues, such as racial politics, the upheavals of the 1960s, and media influence on public opinion. In his case studies, he focuses on the way decisions have addressed human rights violations arising from the prison system, from overcrowding, to the failure to reduce crime, to the torture of being incarcerated with a terminal illness. Simon’s most striking contribution comes in the discussion of “dignity” as a concept in human rights law. He argues that making prisons more humane and effective requires a “dignity cascade,” which will enshrine a basic notion of bodily integrity and decency in the edifice of law. Though the Eighth Amendment is often narrowly interpreted to prohibit only the most intentional torture, interpreting it to protect dignity would allow us to understand mass incarceration as inherently “cruel and unusual” because of the conditions it fosters. Simon’s accessible and powerful book deserves widespread attention. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 06/16/2014
Release date: 08/01/2014
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-1-62097-254-0
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