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Kind and Usual Punishment: The Prison Business

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A candid examination of American prison practices is based on the author's extensive research and workshop experiences as an inmate.


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A candid examination of American prison practices is based on the author's extensive research and workshop experiences as an inmate.

30 review for Kind and Usual Punishment: The Prison Business

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ned Rifle

    It's hard to review this work, it being a 40 year old piece of investigative journalism, so I shall simply include a few of the various shocking pieces of information contained within as if they are currently valid, and anyone who has more up-to-date information can kindly step forward and enlighten me. 52% of those incarcerated have not been convicted of a crime, they are awaiting trial and cannot afford bail. Mitford attends a congress of the American Correctional Association at which her 'deleg It's hard to review this work, it being a 40 year old piece of investigative journalism, so I shall simply include a few of the various shocking pieces of information contained within as if they are currently valid, and anyone who has more up-to-date information can kindly step forward and enlighten me. 52% of those incarcerated have not been convicted of a crime, they are awaiting trial and cannot afford bail. Mitford attends a congress of the American Correctional Association at which her 'delegate's kit' contains a commemorative novelty license plate made by prisoners. She witnesses a speech by the head of corrections in California who, 6 months previously had given the order to open machine gun fire on prisoners conducting a hunger strike. A quote will do here: "Dr Schein, who said he got most of his ideas from studying brainwashing techniques used by North Korean and Chinese communists on GI prisoners of war, cautioned his audience not to be put off by this fact..." I was going to add what he actually said (and may well still) but it's not looking great. The most disturbing section of the book, and the one that I would most assume had changed to a great degree, is that on medical research. After animal testing of pharmaceuticals, 3 stages of human testing are required - the first (the one to test its initial effect upon humans and any possibly toxic effects) is largely done in prisons. Prisoners are routinely asked to sign forms surrendering all possibility of appeal if the drug has terrible effects - whilst this document is not legal, most prisoners will not know this. They are paid $1 a day on average,or $2 if the tests involves a lot of blood/semen/muscle samples, which is significantly less than has been allocated as payment by the pharmaceutical companies. (One particularly wily researcher suggested that the amount was so low because to have it any higher would create too much incentive and it would be an ethical issue.) One study was conducted in which scurvy was induced in a group of patients within 50 days (the researcher, over the first 30 days, also forgot to administer the FDA recommended mineral supplement to accompany the test) - doing well, with severe scurvy manifesting itself even faster than his previous attempt at this study (also in a prison). On the publication of his paper, however, he received no congratulation but merely disapprobation, with many wondering why he would be conducting such a study when the causes and cures for scurvy were so well known. One last enlightening sample from this section, a conversation between a law professor and a senior researcher: Law: Does he understand the effects of the drug? Researcher: Yes, we explained the whole thing to him. We don't want any misunderstanding. Law: Well, what are the effects? Researcher: We don't know. That what we're trying to find out. I haven't dealt with many of the sections still, but I grow fatigued. This is a very good book and I would appreciate your help in bringing my knowledge up to date. Oh, I should state that the book reaches the conclusion that prisons should be abolished. Did everyone else know the prison was invented by Quakers? My awareness of Jessica Mitford is thanks to John Pilger. If you don't know about her or her sisters, watch this: http://johnpilger.com/videos/the-outs...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

    The investigative reporting (or muckraking as Jessica Mitford might call her own work) in Kind and Usual Punishment is at least 40 years old. However, what used to be standard practice in the American prison system is an eye opener. Even if things have changed, prison conditions were so bad while in living memory I'm not surprised why the prison-industrial complex is still an issue for discussion. With Mitford's usual wit, she gives a series of reports on what she has found as common practices, The investigative reporting (or muckraking as Jessica Mitford might call her own work) in Kind and Usual Punishment is at least 40 years old. However, what used to be standard practice in the American prison system is an eye opener. Even if things have changed, prison conditions were so bad while in living memory I'm not surprised why the prison-industrial complex is still an issue for discussion. With Mitford's usual wit, she gives a series of reports on what she has found as common practices, or as "kind and usual punishment" as she is trying to get at the real everyday conditions during each prisoner's stay. From parole boards, medical studies, prison work programs, and prison reform, Mitford carefully assembles her facts from interviews and internal prison system publications. Mitford's research is carefully balanced by her narrative format. Instead of trying to enrage her readers, she is trying to expose the embarrassing facts of life that within prison administration make perfect sense, but are absurd or even cruel when viewed by an outsider. I really wish that Mitford had had the opportunity to make an update to this work of investigative journalism before her death to see how things had changed from 1973, when the work first appeared, to when she died in the mid-1990s. The breadth and presentation of the issue that Jessica is able to achieve is impressive, and if I wanted to hear about the prison system from anyone it would be Jessica Mitford. Kind and Usual Punishment epitomizes Mitford's famous philosophy, "You may not be able to change the world, but at least you can embarrass the guilty.” For sure, she embarrassed more than a few prison system officials.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Samantha M.

    The best book I've read on prisons so far, despite being over forty years old. Sadly, many things have gotten worse; namely, the sheer number of people imprisoned. The end was profound, so much that I have to quote it: "Those of us on the outside do not like to think of wardens and guards as our surrogates. Yet they are, and they are intimately locks in a deadly embrace with their human captives behind the prison walls. By extension so are we. A terrible double meaning is thus imparted to the or The best book I've read on prisons so far, despite being over forty years old. Sadly, many things have gotten worse; namely, the sheer number of people imprisoned. The end was profound, so much that I have to quote it: "Those of us on the outside do not like to think of wardens and guards as our surrogates. Yet they are, and they are intimately locks in a deadly embrace with their human captives behind the prison walls. By extension so are we. A terrible double meaning is thus imparted to the original question to human ethics: Am I my brother's keeper?"

  4. 4 out of 5

    Michael T.

    Mitford lays out her arguments in exact and detailed prose, never wavering from her path and ultimately delivering a scathing critique of the American justice system. Though the work is over 40 years old, it acts as a time capsule that, shockingly, reveals how little things have changed in the way we treat the most maligned members of our society. Must read.

  5. 4 out of 5

    columbialion

    The real reason for the failure of prisons

  6. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    Crazy unbelievable to see how little has changed since this book's publication in 1973. Prison reform movement still fighting the same battles.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Steven Yenzer

    Not as current as Mitford's The American Way of Death Revisited, although that's certainly not her fault. Kind and Usual Punishment is definitely outdated, but Mitford's wonderful writing makes it still worth a read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Matilda

    Despite the age of this book, it is still an amazing read. Jessica Mitford can tell it like no other.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Silja J.A.

    My hero, my inspiration ...

  10. 4 out of 5

    James

  11. 5 out of 5

    Leyla

  12. 4 out of 5

    Courtney

  13. 5 out of 5

    Brian

  14. 4 out of 5

    Vicki

  15. 4 out of 5

    Emily

  16. 4 out of 5

    Pat

  17. 4 out of 5

    Daniela

  18. 5 out of 5

    Josephine

  19. 4 out of 5

    Maggie

  20. 5 out of 5

    Janet

  21. 5 out of 5

    Marty

  22. 5 out of 5

    Bill Kerwin

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kat Warren

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jennine

  25. 4 out of 5

    Pinkbetsey

  26. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Mackey

  27. 4 out of 5

    Wordweaverlynn

  28. 4 out of 5

    Delta Q

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lita

  30. 4 out of 5

    Denise Gieger

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