Today there are approximately fifty thousand prisoners in American prisons serving life without parole, having been found guilty of crimes ranging from murder and rape to burglary, carjacking, and drug offences. In The Forgotten Men, criminologist Margaret E. Leigey provides an insightful account of a group of aging inmates imprisoned for at least twenty years, with virtually no chance of release.
These men make up one of the most marginalized segments of the contemporary U.S. prison population. Considered too dangerous for rehabilitation, ignored by prison administrators, and overlooked by courts disinclined to review such sentences, these prisoners grow increasingly cut off from family and the outside world. Drawing on in-depth interviews with twenty-five such prisoners, Leigey gives voice to these extremely marginalized inmates and offers a look at how they struggle to cope. She reveals, for instance, that the men believe that permanent incarceration is as inhumane as capital punishment, calling life without parole “the hard death penalty.” Indeed, after serving two decades in prison, some wished that they had received the death penalty instead. Leigey also recounts the ways in which the prisoners attempt to construct meaningful lives inside the bleak environment where they will almost certainly live out their lives.
Every state in the union (except Alaska) has the life-without-parole sentencing option, despite its controversial nature and its staggering cost to the taxpayer. The Forgotten Men provides a much-needed analysis of the policies behind life-without-parole sentencing, arguing that such sentences are overused and lead to serious financial and ethical dilemmas.
Jonathan Simon University of Chicago Press, 1993 Library of Congress HV9304.S54 1993 | Dewey Decimal 364.620973
This powerful book reveals how modern strategies of punishment—and, by all accounts, their failure—relate to political and economic transformations in society at large. Jonathan Simon uses the practice of parole in California as a window to the changing historical understanding of what a corrections system does and how it works. Because California is representative of policies and practices on a national level, Simon explicitly presents his findings within a national framework.
When parole first emerged as a corrections strategy in the nineteenth century, work was supposed to keep ex-prisoners out of trouble. This strategy foundered in the changing economy after World War II. What followed was a rehabilitative strategy, where the clinical expertise of the parole agent replaced the discipline of the industrial labor market in defining and controlling criminal deviance. Today, Simon argues, as drastic changes in the economy have virtually locked out an entire class, rehabilitation has given way to mere management. The effect is isolation of the offender, either in jail or in an underclass community; the result is an escalating cycle of imprisonment, destabilization, and insecurity.
No significant improvement in the current penal crisis can be expected until we better understand the relationship between punishment and social order, a relationship which this book explores in theoretical, historical, and practical detail.
Challenging the ideology of treatment in the prison world
The Professional Convict’s Tale: The Survival of John O’Neill In and Out of Prison offers a unique, inside view of life behind bars in the 1960s. Elmer H. Johnson, a criminologist who has specialized in prison life for half a century, gave Menard Penitentiary parolee John O’Neill a tape recorder and a set of questions designed to draw out his opinions and observations about the prison world.
This study frames O’Neill’s responses with Johnson’s analysis. O’Neill’s narrative guides readers through the world beyond the prison gate as he shares his strategies for survival and proposes alternatives to rebellion or submission. He discusses the fractionalization between the keepers and the kept and the effects that subterranean communication, threats of inmate predators, and prison riots can have on the psyche of both inmates and staff.
O’Neill’s frustrations and the inadequate responses from the community to which he was paroled illustrate the social costs and impact of parole for the community and for the parolee. Although O’Neill recorded his comments more than forty years ago, they are still relevant today when thousands of convicts are being released from prison each year.