Marc Mauer, "Race to Incarcerate" (New Press, 2013)


The American penitentiary model began as not merely a physical construct, but as a philosophical and religious one. Prisoners were to use their time in silence and isolation to contemplate their crimes/sins and to pursue God's grace. Alexis de Tocqueville's trip to America began not as a study of American democracy, but of its prisons, though he would go on to write about both arguing that arguing that American social reformers were beginning to view prisons as the "remedy for all of the evils of society". As with many of his other observations Tocqueville was both accurate and prescient. Today America has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, more than four times the number of second place contender Russia. Regions like upstate NY that used to rely on logging, dairy farms, and manufacturing now rely on prison jobs for economic stability, while states like Mississippi release prisoners in the thousand because they cannot afford to continue to house them. Private prisons trade shares on the NASDAQ, promising to 'lock up the profits' of investors, which often means cutting corners in areas that can actually lead to rehabilitation - prisoner education, job training and substance abuse treatment. Marc Mauer's Race to Incarcerate (New Press, 2013) is a graphic exploration of this reality based on his earlier book by the same title. Marc was kind enough to speak with us. I hope you enjoy.

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