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February 17, 2011

Thesis Thursday: Doing time on the outside

That’s right, I’m hoping I can make a new weekly habit of posting something thesis/jail/incarceration related, a goal which I alluded to before.  Thesis Thursday because of the alliteration (who doesn’t like a little alliteration?) and the fact that Wednesday and Thursday are my main working days, so I *should* have something new to say.

Have I mentioned this book before?  Doing Time on the Outside: Incarceration and Family Life in Urban America by Donald Braman.  This book is a great read.  If you like nonfiction and are interested in social problems, you’ll appreciate his unique, somewhat apolitical approach to criminal justice reform.  If you like fiction and stories, it’s full of compelling personal accounts — you can’t make this stuff up!  (Plus you wouldn’t want to because some of it is just too sad.)

He makes a great point right on page 4 that I have seldom heard addressed in quite this way:

This book parts ways with mainstream accounts on both sides.  Unlike many liberal efforts, it does not argue that greater protection of the rights of criminal offenders will solve the problems that criminal sanctions exacerbate.  Instead, this book suggests that our current regime of sanctions demands far too little accountability from offenders.  Contrary to many conservative assessments, this book argues that the reforms of the last twenty-five years have done little to advance such accountability.  Indeed, as currently practiced, incarceration not only provides offenders with an excuse for not contributing to the welfare of their families and communities, but it practically enforces their noncontribution.  Indeed, if anything, the sentencing reforms of the 1980s and 1990s have enforced radical irresponsibility and unaccountability, and it is the families and communities of offenders that are bearing the burden.

There is a lot more I could say about why “get tough on crime” approaches don’t work and why instead I favor innovative approaches to criminal justice like restorative justice and alternatives to incarceration like drug courts.  But suffice it to say that a solely punitive approach is not helping anyone: not the offenders, not the victims, not the families, not the immediate communities, and not our society.

So if you get a chance, pick up this book.  It will get you thinking . . . and feeling.

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2 Comments »

  1. Lindsay, you’re really reaching out to me lately! I’m reading a book on restorative justice and I recently attended a session of drug court. I’m SO glad there are alternatives to incarceration that are doing a lot of good. I’ll look forward to more Thesis Thursdays. 🙂

    Comment by Genny — February 18, 2011 @ 12:01 am

  2. We were meant to be friends. I would like to read this book someday, when I have extra energy to cry for other people than myself, my family, and the 23 YW I lead at church. But until then, I’m all for reform. By the time I was about 9 I had decided that prisons were such a bad system that I thought they might as well kill everyone (this is not to say I’m promoting death penalty) rather than lock them up for so long and not do anything to help them change and then let them out again. Especially since it costs so much money. Either spend the money needed to do it right, or nothing at all. Kind of an extreme view, but I’m not big on punishment for it’s own sake. We are here to learn and love, and I don’t see our prison helping with that.

    Comment by vblanchard — February 18, 2011 @ 12:06 am


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