THE JAIL: Managing the Underclass in American Society by John Irwin

THE JAIL: Managing the Underclass in American Society

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A sociological research project based upon case histories of hundreds of inmates in American jails. Irwin (sociology/San Francisco State) has previously authored The Felon and PriSons in Turmoil. Here, he is concerned only with America's jails where those arrested for misdemeanors or felonies are placed. Those frequenters of jails Irwin pegs as ""rabble,"" the recurrent term of the book, known more sociologically as ""the underclass."" Irwin gives us nothing new. His jail prisoners share two characteristics--detachment and disrepute. Writers such as Erring Goffman have already given us similar analyses. Irwin adds to the literature basically in itemizing his research. The first half of the book abounds with charts and graphs enumerating the breakdowns of crimes committed and by whom. His disreputables consist of petty hustlers, derelicts, junkies, outlaws, crazies, corner boys, lowriders (intentionally bothersome public deviants), aliens, gays, and square johns (aberrant reputable types). The jail, Irwin argues conventionally, simply confirms the status of these types and serves as training grounds to replenish their ranks. There are many weaknesses in Irwin's research. For example, sticking with his locale results in most of his allusions being to San Francisco penal institutions. Thus, the research is heavily weighted to big-city jails, each of which has unique problems endemic to the city's population mix, etc. He also leaves totally neglected the large area of female jails--even in his own big city. Thus we are left in the end with a time-worn viewpoint, buttressed by incomplete, one-sided research. A solitary confinement.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1985
ISBN: 0520060326
Publisher: Univ. of California Press