A Graphic Retelling
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A graphic primer on the inequities of the American penal system, presumably aimed at students who have yet to form an opinion on the subject.

The third iteration of this title is one that even author Mauer (Invisible Punishment, 2002) writes is “certainly not a version that I would ever have anticipated.” It distills the influential 1999 text and subsequent update into a version that would have more emotional resonance, or, as the foreword by Michelle Alexander puts it, “would be engaging and accessible to young readers and people in all walks of life, not just policy wonks.” As illustrated by Jones (Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography, 2008), the simplified condensation hits all the high points: the racial disparities faced by those in the judicial system (particularly in regard to drug cases), the growth of the prison industry, the price paid for the “War on Drugs,” “Law and Order” and “Three Strikes and You’re Out” campaigns, and the tension and conflict between deterrence (and punishment) and rehabilitation. Even comparatively liberal President Bill Clinton failed to reverse a trend in which more than two decades of spending “had bloated the prison system, while cuts to social programs had starved the inner cities.” Where middle-class whites are often allowed to seek treatment for drug abuse, black users more often face prison, with mandated sentences. “Looking back on two centuries of prison in America, how little has changed,” the text maintains. “The basic concept is caging humans.” Though conservatives claim that the increase in incarceration has reduced crime, this manifesto argues that other factors have contributed to this decline. The graphic narrative builds the basic case for human values rather than draconian punishment, for investment in social services rather than the prison industry.

A worthy tool for liberal educators, but it is not likely to change the minds of conservatives who feel that prisoners are getting what they deserve.

Pub Date: April 2nd, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-59558-541-7
Page count: 128pp
Publisher: New Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2013


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