Our Punitive Society
Race, Class, Gender and Punishment in America
This brand new text identifies the macroeconomic forces relevant to imprisonment—poverty and political powerlessness—and explores viable and humane alternatives to our current incarceration binge.
Reviews
“We desperately need alternatives to incarceration and the way we effect criminal justice in our society. Shelden addresses this in his very provocative, well-written, and concise discourse. Every incoming student in criminal justice should read this book before they are exposed to the draconian ideas presented in traditional texts.” — Dennis M. Rome, University of Wisconsin, Kenosha

“Excellent portrayal of the punitive nature of the CJ system—from intake through trial, to sentencing and thereafter. Provides a concise historical framework of the issues at hand as well as very up-to-date figures and facts. Written for students and is very reader-friendly!” — Krystle Leugoud, University of Missouri, St. Louis

“For almost 40 years, Randall Shelden has been known for his groundbreaking work in juvenile delinquency, gangs, and the history of American criminal justice. Two of the finest additions to the literature are his Delinquency and Juvenile Justice in American Society, 2/E (2012) and Controlling the Dangerous Classes, 2/E (2008). In this new text, Shelden has done it again by providing an interpretative overview for a number of disturbing trends in American justice. For the United States of America to sustain a Gulag system that has historical overtones to slavery is indeed a very serious indictment of neo-liberal, criminal justice policies. Luckily for us all, Shelden provides a way out of this failed legacy. This is a superb overview of the issues facing all Americans and an equally cogent explanation for the historical patterns.” — Matthew G. Yeager, King’s University College, University of Western Ontario

“This book challenges conventional wisdom about crime and punishment in the United States. Tracing the origins of the rise in penal sanctioning to slavery and poor houses, Shelden not only identifies macroeconomic forces as relevant to imprisonment—he connects them directly. Poverty and political powerlessness remain strong predictors of incarceration. Only when we confront these realities will we achieve a viable and humane alternative to our current incarceration binge. I will use this book as required reading.” — Michael Hallett, University of North Florida
Table of Contents
Introduction: Why Are We So Punitive?
Indices of Change / Why Are We So Punitive? / We're the Tough Guys

1. The Punishment Business
The United States versus the World / Incarceration in the United States / The Impact of Incarceration on Crime / Punishment as a Market for Capitalism / The Drug War

2. The Prison Incarceration Boom: Bursting at the Seams
A Boom in Prison Construction / Rural Prisons: Uplifting Rural Economies? / The Privatization of Prisons: Profits for Private Industry

3. Jails: Temporary Housing for the Poor
Getting In and Out of Jail: It's Not like Monopoly / The Historical Context / Pretrial Detention and Bail / Who Is in Jail? / The Functions of Jails: Managing the "Rabble" Class

4. Slavery in the Third Millennium
Seeking Cheap Labor and Control of African Americans / Prisons and Convict Leasing Help Perpetuate Slavery / Slavery Revisited: The Return of the Chain Gang / The Face of Crime / Uneven Justice / Funneling Minorities into Prison via the Drug War

5. Legalized Homicide: The Death Penalty in America
The Origins of the Death Penalty / Lynching: Forerunner to the Death Chamber / The Death Penalty Today / Juveniles and the Death Penalty

6. Punishing Women
A Brief History of Women's Prisons / Custody versus Reform / Women in Today's Prisons / The War on Drugs and Women / Characteristics of Women in Prison

7. Punishing Kids
Houses of Refuge / Court Decisions and Effects / Punishing Youths: Abuses and Scandals Today / Promising Alternatives to Punishing Children

8. Parole: Punishment without Walls
Origins of Parole / Granting Parole / Being on Parole / Is the Parole System Set up to Fail? / The Cost of Failure / Barriers to Parole Success / Programs for Successful Reentry

9. Is There a Better Way?
Addressing the Problem of Social Inequality / Ending the War on Drugs / Expanding Diversion Programs, Avoiding Net Widening / Gender-Responsive Strategies for Female Offenders / Broad-Based National Strategies to Reduce Crime / We Need a New Paradigm