The ToB, presented by Field Notes, is here!

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Current Reads

Texas Is No. 1

A new book sheds light on the world's largest prison population (ours).

Book Cover Texas is the punch line to a lot of gallows humor about the American criminal justice system, and my recent note on attorney David Dow’s book, The Autobiography of an Execution, points out the reality. Here’s some data to add to the grim picture:
  • Rank of Texas’s spending on indigent criminal defense among 50 states: 50

  • Rank of Texas in number of juveniles incarcerated in adult prisons: 1

  • Rank of Texas in number of prisoners held in supermax control units: 1

  • Rank of Texas in number of inmates shipped to private for-profit prisons: 1

  • Rank of Texas in number of inmates sexually assaulted in prison (in both absolute and per capita terms): 1

  • Rank of Texas in executions since 1977: 1

  • Rank of Texas in executing juveniles and mentally retarded inmates before recent Supreme Court prohibitions: 1

  • Number of state prisons built in Texas between 1980 and 2004: 94

  • Total number of university campuses in Texas: 94
In Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire (Metropolitan Books), historian Robert Perkinson directs the clear light of reason onto the Lone Star State from a history of American imprisonment practices. His rich narrative is (as one might expect) informed by convict accounts, official records, and interviews with prisoners, guards, and lawmakers recognizing the two main strains of penal theory—the “North’s rehabilitative approach” and the “retributive and profit-driven regime of the South,” which, Perkinson points out, has triumphed.

Despite all sorts of evidence that points to the intractability of the problems (that money is to be made from the status quo looms large) surrounding the penal justice system, this book offers some hope for reform. Benjamin Todd Jealous of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People blurbs:
Texas Tough shows that the politics of race has always governed the politics of punishment and explains why our criminal justice system is the frontline of America’s human rights struggle in the twenty-first century. This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to build a stronger America and put these decades of over-incarceration (and under-education) of Americans behind us.
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