The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society Reviewed
September 18, 2003 7:14 PM   Subscribe

David Garland's disturbing new book addresses the question why there are so many more people in jail in America and Britain than anywhere else... Its broader concern is with "cultures of control," how societies treat deviance and violence and whom they single out for what treatment. Here are some facts about skyrocketing imprisonment... There are approximately two million people in jail in America today, 2,166,260 at last count: more than four times as many people as thirty years ago. It is the largest number in our history... [and] between four and ten times the incarceration rate of any civilized country in the world... Twelve percent of African-American men between twenty and thirty-four are currently behind bars (the highest figure ever recorded by the Justice Department) compared to 1.6 percent of white men of comparable ages. And according to the same source, 28 percent of black men will be sent to jail in their lifetime... It was not until crime rates had already leveled off that incarceration rates began their steady, year-by-year climb. Between 1972 and 1992, while the population of America's prisons grew and grew, the crime rate as a whole continued at the same level, unchanged. Jerome S. Bruner reviews The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society for The New York Review of Books, as does Austin Sarat in the American Prospect.
posted by y2karl (9 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Twelve percent of African-American men between twenty and thirty-four are currently behind bars

truely shocking.
posted by carfilhiot at 7:55 PM on September 18, 2003

From the American Prospect article:

"Professional elites are less successful in resisting populist incursions into the domain of
crime-and-punishment policy, and members of the affluent upper-middle class are much less invested in criminal justice liberalism." (italics added)

Well, that's really a disarmingly honest way to put it.

I haven't read Garland's book, of course. But the New York Review of Books article, which was quite lengthy, seems to provide no factual evidence except for vague references to crime rates and imprisonment rates from which some sinister correlation is implied. It would be much more interesting to find out how many people are in prison for nonviolent drug offenses. Or how about how many people are in prison for offenses they committed during periods of high crime rates? It means nothing to say that we have more people in prison now than in the 1980's when crime rates were higher if you don't know how many of those people have been in prison since the 80's (criminals tend to be younger than the average age.) The "incarceration rate" refers to people in prison in a given year, not people beginning a prison sentence in a given year. I hope the book is a little bit more rigorous.
posted by transona5 at 8:22 PM on September 18, 2003

A sad reflection on society and, while the information is mainly aimed at the US, it seems that the "developed" world as a whole has given up on trying to reform prisoners and just wants to adopt an "out of sight, out of mind" approach that is only relevant to hardened, violent criminals who refuse to be rehabilitated (my opinion only, of course). While many people support the push for "truth in sentencing", I wonder how many of them understand the down side to this.

The race imbalance is by no means restricted to the US, by the way.
posted by dg at 8:27 PM on September 18, 2003

Here's the companion site for the CBC documentatry program Witness for their "To Kill or to Cure" series looking at prisons around the world. Including Finland's 'open prisons' where prisoners can hold jobs in the community and mothers can be with their young children. They also look at Japan and Canada where we're experimenting with more interesting approaches against the backdrop of the American-style system. Very interesting stuff.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:36 PM on September 18, 2003

Very interesting stuff.

Then there is this: Human Rights Watch's

Human Rights Violations In the United States - Red Onion Prison.

Besides the enormous costs of imprisonment, this emphasis on reribution that runs through the new philosphy of incarceration plays to the very worst of our natures: the desire to cause pain to another human being. And it does nothing to prepare the inmate for re-entry into society--prison now seems to be there so we can collectively stick it to someone for the maximum legal amount of time. Boy, that sure is the smart way to stop crime.
posted by y2karl at 9:03 PM on September 18, 2003

Good topic, y2karl... thanks for the pointer, I will have to read this book.
Related: The Sentencing Project. - excellent site. Look at this dramatic depiction of the trend you address.
Also, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
posted by madamjujujive at 10:32 PM on September 18, 2003

If you want to see injustice in action, visit any University in a medium or large sized city. On campus, mostly white students indulge in heavily in drugs with little consequences and almost never an arrest, while steps away the mostly black neighbors do the same drugs, and are arrested and locked away for it.
posted by chaz at 12:46 AM on September 19, 2003

chaz is right, and the system actually depends on applying the laws inconsistently and letting students off the hook. If white college students were treated the same way as black men of the same age for drug use, the outcry from their parents would have already decriminalized marijuana.

I don't think most people accept this system because they feel insecure and support a society of control. They just remain indifferent, because the arbitrariness of the laws and the cruelty of the penal system will never touch anyone in their social circle.
posted by fuzz at 4:20 AM on September 19, 2003

Anyone with a conscience knows how bad the U.S. situation is. But what's indeed shocking and less well appreciated is how successfully misguided American policies are being exported, to Europe and elsewhere. More articles here.
posted by Zurishaddai at 2:10 PM on September 19, 2003

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