New Book: Texas Tough
In a recent Friday Roundup, I noted a few early reviews of Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire (Metropolitan Books, 2010), by University of Hawaii professor Robert Perkinson. This past weekend, the book was favorably reviewed in the New York Times Book Review. Writes reviewer Daniel Bergner:
[T]here isn’t much that is subtle about Perkinson’s writing, and perhaps there shouldn’t be. Not only do we incarcerate at some six times the rate that Britain does, to take one example, or around seven times the rate of Canada, but, Perkinson relates, African-Americans are seven times as likely to be locked up as whites, and “African-American men today go to prison at twice the rate they go to college.” … Since the triumphs of the civil rights movement, the disparity between black and white incarceration rates has almost doubled. In the early 21st century, the country, Perkinson suggests, has in a sense become the late-19th-century South.
Perkinson was recently interviewed by the Boston Globe:
[The American prison industry is] on a scale unlike anything attempted by a democratic government in human history. There have been larger prison experiments — the Soviet gulag, for instance — but only in totalitarian states. The total prison population in the US is about 2.4 million; if you count those on probation and parole, it rises to almost 8 million. We have chosen to lock up more people for longer than any other country in the world. And those incarcerated are not just disproportionately African-American and Latino but increasingly so. In that sense, the US criminal justice system has become not more, but less equal over the last 40 years.
I look forward to reading and perhaps blogging further about Texas Tough. Since much of the historical scholarship on American prisons has traditionally focused on nineteenth-century penitentiaries in the Northeast, I’ve been excited by recent works such as Texas Tough and Sunbelt Justice (which I blogged about a few months ago) that focus on developments in the twentieth century, and in the Southern and Western states, since it’s those developments that more proximately explain our current rates of mass incarceration and more directly inform contemporary views on crime and punishment.