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Big Prisons, Big Dreams: Crime and the Failure of America's Penal System (Critical Issues in Crime and Society)by Michael J. Lynch
Synopses & Reviews
Shining new light on early American prison literatureandmdash;from its origins in last words, dying warnings, and gallows literature to its later works of autobiography, exposandeacute;, and imaginative literatureandmdash;Reading Prisonersand#160;weaves together insights about the rise of the early American penitentiary, the history of early American literacy instruction, and the transformation of crime writing in the andldquo;longandrdquo; eighteenth century.and#160;
Looking first at colonial Americaandmdash;an era often said to devalue jailhouse literacyandmdash;Jodi Schorb reveals that in fact this era launched the literate prisoner into public prominence. Criminal confessions published between 1700 and 1740, she shows, were crucial andldquo;literacy eventsandrdquo; that sparked widespread public fascination with the reading habits of the condemned, consistent with the evangelical revivalism that culminated in the first Great Awakening. By centuryandrsquo;s end,and#160;narratives by condemned criminals helped an audience of new writers navigate the perils and promises of expanded literacy.
Schorb takes us off the scaffold and inside the private world of the first penitentiariesandmdash;such as Philadelphiaandrsquo;s Walnut Street Prison and New Yorkandrsquo;s Newgate, Auburn, and Sing Sing. She unveils the long and contentious struggle over the value of prisoner education that ultimately led to sporadic efforts to supply prisoners with books and education. Indeed, a new philosophy emerged, one that argued that prisoners were best served by silence and hard labor, not by reading and writingandmdash;a stance that a new generation of convict authors vociferously protested.
The staggering rise of mass incarceration in America since the 1970s has brought the issue of prisoner rehabilitation once again to the fore.and#160;Reading Prisonersand#160;offers vital background to the ongoing, crucial debates over the benefits of prisoner education.
Shining new light on early American prison literature, Reading Prisoners weaves together insights about the rise of the early American penitentiary, the history of early American literacy instruction, and the transformation of crime writing in the andldquo;longandrdquo; eighteenth century. Jodi Schorb overturns much conventional wisdom as she illuminates how prisoners first entered print as readers and writers, from the colonial American jail to the early national penitentiary.and#160;
The American prison system has grown tenfold since the 1970s, but crime rates in the United States have not decreased. This doesn't surprise Michael J. Lynch, a critical criminologist, who argues that our oversized prison system is a product of our consumer culture, the public's inaccurate beliefs about controlling crime, and the government's criminalizing of the poor.
While deterrence and incapacitation theories suggest that imprisoning more criminals and punishing them leads to a reduction in crime, case studies, such as one focusing on the New York City jail system between 1993 and 2003, show that a reduction in crime is unrelated to the size of jail populations. Although we are locking away more people, Lynch explains that we are not targeting the worst offenders. Prison populations are comprised of the poor, and many are incarcerated for relatively minor robberies and violence. America's prison expansion focused on this group to the exclusion of corporate and white collar offenders who create hazardous workplace and environmental conditions that lead to deaths and injuries, and enormous economic crimes. If America truly wants to reduce crime, Lynch urges readers to rethink cultural values that equate bigger with better.
About the Author
Michael J. Lynch is a professor in the department of criminology at the University of South Florida.
Table of Contents
Introductionand#160;and#160;and#160; A Is for Aardvark: A Prison Literacy Primer
Part Iand#160;and#160; Literacy in the Eighteenth-Century andldquo;Gaolandrdquo;
1and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; Books Behind Bars: Reading Prisoners on the Scaffold
2and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; Crime, Ink: The Rise of the Writing Prisoner
Part IIand#160; Literacy in the Early Penitentiary
3and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; andldquo;What Shall a Convict Do?andrdquo;: Reading and Reformation in Philadelphiaandrsquo;s Early Penitentiaries
4and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; Written By One Who Knows: Congregate Literacy in New York Prisons
Afterwordand#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; Good Convict, Good Citizen?
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