INFERNO by Robert A. Ferguson


An Anatomy of American Punishment
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An eye-opening report about how the United States, with just 5 percent of the world's population, holds 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population.

Ferguson (Law, Literature and Criticism/Columbia University; Alone in America: The Stories that Really Matter, 2013, etc.) charges that American prisons have “become an evil for all concerned.” Federal, state and local governments spend $80 billion per year on a system that provides jobs for one out of nine state employees. In order to promote the system’s growth, private prison companies, as well as the unions representing guards, have become a self-serving lobby wielding their clout over political decision-makers. As one example, Louisiana's privatized, for-profit system holds one out of every 86 of the state's citizens: three times more than in Iran, seven times more than in China and 10 times more than in Germany. The numbers jailed and the severity of the sentences— including life without parole for nonviolent crimes—are no longer comparable to any of the countries that are peers and allies of the U.S. Overcrowding risks unrest, and financial costs have outgrown available revenue. Ultimately, writes Ferguson, U.S. prison policy has reached a breaking point. The author puts much of the blame on the politicians whose legislation brought about this state of affairs, and he calls their political desires “the punitive impulse in American society.” He wants to know whether it is reversible, noting that it’s “simply a fact that voters promote to high office those politicians who want tougher penalties.” Ferguson dates the origins of this current, nearly intractable situation to a knee-jerk response to widespread urban riots 50 years ago.

An important wake-up call about an emerging crisis that threatens to become a human rights scandal of global proportions.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-674-72868-4
Page count: 340pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2014


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