Join the conversation
Subscribe to Our Emails
Boston Review is a public space for the discussion of ideas and culture. Sign up for our newsletters and don’t miss a thing.
Surveying incarceration: from Attica to Appalachia and prison profiteering to “poverty penalties.”
Since August 21 this year, prisoners in seventeen states have been taking part in the Nationwide Prison Strike, and September 9 marks not only the end of their efforts, but the anniversary of the 1971 Attica prison riots—when thirty-nine prison guards and employees were held hostage.
By ending their strike on the same day, incarcerated people are aligning themselves with the Prisoners’ Rights Movement, pointedly recalling the use of violence by American authorities to suppress efforts by prisoners to affirm their constitutional rights. Change has been slow, and the demands of this summer’s striking prisoners are the same as those that were made nearly half a century ago: an end to unpaid or underpaid forced labor and respect for prisoners’ basic legal and human rights.
From Attica to Appalachia, prison profiteering to “poverty penalties,” below are a selection of articles from our recent archive that tackle the state of incarceration today.
Prison Uprisings and the Legacy of Attica
by Robert Chase
“Major U.S. companies that benefit from prison labor include McDonald’s (prisoners produce frozen foods and process beef, chicken, milk, and bread), Victoria’s Secret (female prisoners sew lingerie in South Carolina), and Walmart (Wisconsin prisoners built a Walmart distribution center).”
• • •
Building Prisons in Appalachia
by Sylvia Ryerson, Judah Schept
“The data is clear: in economically struggling areas, prisons fail to provide the promised growth. Eastern Kentucky counties with federal prisons remain among the poorest in the nation.”
• • •
No Easy End to Prison Profiteering
by Christopher Petrella
“Public and private prisons are both driven by profit. Private prisons simply expand the state’s capacity to make money from punishment.”
• • •
The Roots of Black Incarceration
by Joy James
“Haunted Convict is a hitherto-unknown confessional by Austen Reed—a “free” nineteenth-century black New Yorker who spent decades of his life imprisoned—that deals with a critical period when American racially fashioned slavery began its mutation into the carceral state.”
• • •
Paying for Punishment
by Donna Murch
“Forty-one states also charge offenders for the cost of imprisonment itself, and forty-four states charge for costs of probation and parole. To make matters worse, the overwhelming majority of the states with the largest prison populations charge “poverty penalties” by imposing additional costs on those unable to pay off criminal justice debt immediately.”
• • •
The Untold Story of Mass Incarceration
by Vesla M. Weaver
“Prosecutors enjoy unchecked power over a key point in the criminal justice process: the decision of whether to charge a person, what offense to charge, how many charges to bring, whether to dismiss a case, and whether to invoke prior offenses.”
...we need your help. Confronting the many challenges of COVID-19—from the medical to the economic, the social to the political—demands all the moral and deliberative clarity we can muster. In Thinking in a Pandemic, we’ve organized the latest arguments from doctors and epidemiologists, philosophers and economists, legal scholars and historians, activists and citizens, as they think not just through this moment but beyond it. While much remains uncertain, Boston Review’s responsibility to public reason is sure. That’s why you’ll never see a paywall or ads. It also means that we rely on you, our readers, for support. If you like what you read here, pledge your contribution to keep it free for everyone by making a tax-deductible donation.
Vital reading on politics, literature, and more in your inbox
Readers Also Liked
Printing Note: For best printing results try turning on any options your web browser's print dialog makes available for printing backgrounds and background graphics.