23/7 Pelican Bay Prison and the rise of long-term solitary confinement

Keramet Reiter

Book - 2016

"Originally meant to be brief and exceptional, solitary confinement in U.S. prisons has become long-term and common. Prisoners spend twenty-three hours a day in featureless cells, with no visitors or human contact for years on end, and they are held entirely at administrators' discretion. Keramet Reiter tells the history of one "supermax," California's Pelican Bay State Prison, whose extreme conditions recently sparked a statewide hunger strike by 30,000 prisoners. This ...book describes how Pelican Bay was created without legislative oversight, in fearful response to 1970s radicals; how easily prisoners slip into solitary; and the mental havoc and social costs of years and decades in isolation. The product of fifteen years of research in and about prisons, this book provides essential background to a subject now drawing national attention,"--Baker & Taylor.

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Subjects
Published
New Haven : Yale University Press [2016]
Language
English
Physical Description
x, 302 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 253-286) and index.
ISBN
9780300211467
0300211465
Main Author
Keramet Reiter (author)
Review by Choice Reviews

A fashion has grabbed the hearts of legislators and prison administrators: if punishment doesn't work, punish harder! That peculiar thinking has resulted in the transition from maximum security prisons to the creation of supermaxes. These are windowless, contactless spaces for the so-called "worst of the worst." Criminologist Reiter (School of Law, Univ. of California, Irvine) has written what might respectfully be termed an exposé, probing the origin and operations of California's foreboding supermax, Pelican Bay Prison. Her important narrative involves prison administrators, legislators, and "justice architects," as well as inmates who have experienced supermaxes, sometimes for decades. Reiter explains how all this came about. Black Panther George Jackson was incarcerated in San Quentin when a botched 1971 escape attempt led to the deaths of three guards and three prisoners. Guards held Jackson and his supporters guilty for their deaths. Authorities concluded that even San Quentin's maximum confinement policy was risky. California corrections official Carl Larson designed the new facility, based on an Arizona precursor. Other states and the federal government soon followed with their own supermax prisons. But many supermax inmates have serious mental illnesses that deteriorate further, and some have been "validated" as gang members by dubious internal processes. An outstanding book; the author deserves to be commended. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries.--R. D. McCrie, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNYRobert D. McCrieJohn Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY Robert D. McCrie Choice Reviews 54:08 April 2017 Copyright 2017 American Library Association.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

How America's prisons turned a 'brutal and inhumane' practice into standard procedure Originally meant to be brief and exceptional, solitary confinement in U.S. prisons has become long-term and common. Prisoners spend twenty-three hours a day in featureless cells, with no visitors or human contact for years on end, and they are held entirely at administrators' discretion. Keramet Reiter tells the history of one 'supermax," California's Pelican Bay State Prison, whose extreme conditions recently sparked a statewide hunger strike by 30,000 prisoners. This book describes how Pelican Bay was created without legislative oversight, in fearful response to 1970s radicals; how easily prisoners slip into solitary; and the mental havoc and social costs of years and decades in isolation. The product of fifteen years of research in and about prisons, this book provides essential background to a subject now drawing national attention.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

How America’s prisons turned a “brutal and inhumane” practice into standard procedure