How did prisons become a tool of racial inequality? Using historical data, Heather Schoenfeld’s new book Building the Prison State: Race and the Politics of Mass Incarceration (University of Chicago Press, 2018) “answers how the United States became a nation of prisons and prisoners” (p. 5). Schoenfeld exposes the reader to the historical development of prisons and policy development. She focuses specifically on Florida as a case study to show how prisons become racialized social systems. Interestingly, much of the crime control we have today grew out of racialized punishments and unrest shaped during the civil rights era. Bringing us all the way up to 2016, Schoenfeld sheds light on how prisons developed over time, even as crime rates have fallen. Often incentivized as a source of economic potential in rural areas, prisons have a unique history in the U.S. and this book uncovers that fascinating history.
This book will be of interest to Sociologists and Criminologists, but also Political Scientists and social activists. Sections of the book could be used in an undergraduate Criminology course or a course specifically focused on race and crime. This text would also be critically important to have in a graduate level Criminology course.
Sarah E. Patterson is a postdoc at the University of Western Ontario. You can tweet her at @spattersearch.