Books by Joy James

Released: Feb. 14, 2000

In a hard-hitting survey of left-wing thought on the American system of policing and punishment, James (Ethnic Studies/Univ. of Colorado) presents 26 critical and radical perspectives of varying quality. Introducing essays on issues from capital punishment to the special problems confronting African-Americans, gays, and women in the prison system, and on the use of policing and imprisonment to suppress political dissent, James notes that the US has "the highest incarceration and execution rate in the industrialized world." The authors in this collection leave no doubt why: class war, racism, sexism, and other reactionary isms. Though these essays are replete with statistics showing racial and other biases in policing and sentencing, primary sources sometimes aren't cited for startling statistics, such as one author's statement that criminal suspects in Arizona in 1996 were mostly white, while most people incarcerated there were black. Several contributors sound familiar rhetorical notes from the old and new left ("surplus value," "prison-industrial complex," "critical race feminism"). And some of the analyses, like Angela Y. Davis's analogy of the modern prison system with slavery, go over the top. Yet many of the contributions are persuasive and passionate. Robert Meeropol's haunting "Testimony," part angry polemic, part sorrowful memoir of his parents Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, advances a well-reasoned and eloquent argument against the death penalty; Adrien K. Wing offers a sensitive study of black female gang members; Steven Hawkins protests against the execution of children; Margaret and Michael Ratner detail the abuses of the grand-jury system; and Larvester Gaither brings anti- black brutality shockingly to life. Not everybody will agree with everything here—but there's enough thoughtful analysis to make this collection worthwhile for anyone concerned about justice in America. Read full book review >