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The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics
Marie Gottschalk

Winner of the 2016 Michael Harrington Book Award, New Political Science Section of the American Political Science Association

Also available in paperback

Hardcover | 2015 | This edition is out of print | ISBN: 9780691164052


The huge prison buildup of the past four decades has few defenders today, yet reforms to reduce the number of people in U.S. jails and prisons have been remarkably modest. Meanwhile, a carceral state has sprouted in the shadows of mass imprisonment, extending its reach far beyond the prison gate. It includes not only the country’s vast archipelago of jails and prisons but also the growing range of penal punishments and controls that lie in the never-never land between prison and full citizenship, from probation and parole to immigrant detention, felon disenfranchisement, and extensive lifetime restrictions on sex offenders. As it sunders families and communities and reworks conceptions of democracy, rights, and citizenship, this ever-widening carceral state poses a formidable political and social challenge.

In this book, Marie Gottschalk examines why the carceral state, with its growing number of outcasts, remains so tenacious in the United States. She analyzes the shortcomings of the two dominant penal reform strategies—one focused on addressing racial disparities, the other on seeking bipartisan, race-neutral solutions centered on reentry, justice reinvestment, and reducing recidivism.

In this bracing appraisal of the politics of penal reform, Gottschalk exposes the broader pathologies in American politics that are preventing the country from solving its most pressing problems, including the stranglehold that neoliberalism exerts on public policy. She concludes by sketching out a promising alternative path to begin dismantling the carceral state.


"Gottschalk provides a systematic, surprising, and scathing critique of the prison state. . . . Caught may well be the best book on this subject to appear in decades."--Glenn C. Altschuler, Huffington Post

"Gottschalk is particularly convincing about the follow-on effects of incarceration on the vulnerable neighborhoods that contribute most to the prison population."--Jakub Wrzewniewski, Pacific Standard

"An encyclopedic synthesis of recent scholarly work and journalism on criminal justice, Caught spans a wide range of topics but has a simple refrain: Beware of bipartisan reformers bearing gifts. Politicians pretend that hard problems are easy and make easy problems hard. Gottschalk, to her credit, is no politician."--Sara Mayeux, Chronicle Review

"Everyone . . . should read this book."--Angelia Wilson, Times Higher Education

"Gottschalk has done a public service. She has tried to untangle a fiendishly complex subject, helping to liberate her readers from the intellectual prison of conventional wisdom in the process."--Gary Silverman, Financial Times

"Marie Gottschalk's commanding and disturbing Caught is our best guide to the political decisions and public policies that have created the carceral state and our present immobility on the issue of crime and its punishment. . . . Caught is that relatively rare academic book that hopes to move both public debate and policy."--Michael Meranze, Los Angeles Review of Books

"[D]evastatingly persuasive. . . . Caught proves not only an authoritative companion to the criminal justice system crises you know, but also a thorough compendium of the crises you've never even considered."--Stephen Lurie, Los Angeles Review of Books

"[A] powerful book."--Choice

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File created: 1/4/2017

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