Jonathan Simon is the Adrian A. Kragen Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley.
An innovative look at the radical Supreme Court ruling on California prison conditions as a national wake-up call on mass incarceration, by the award-winning author of Governing Through Crime
“One of the outstanding criminologists of his generation.” —Nikolas Rose, London School of Economics
For nearly forty years, the United States has been gripped by policies that have placed more than 2.5 million Americans in jails and prisons designed to hold a fraction of that number of inmates. Our prisons are not only vast and overcrowded, they are degrading—relying on racist gangs, lockdowns, and Supermax-style segregation units to maintain a tenuous order. In short, mass incarceration has proven to be a fiscal and penological disaster.
A landmark 2011 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Plata, has opened an unexpected escape route from this trap of “tough on crime” politics and points toward values that could restore legitimate order to American prisons and ultimately lead to the dismantling of “mass incarceration.” Berkeley law professor Jonathan Simon—an internationally renowned critic of mass incarceration and the war on crime—argues that, much like the epic school segregation cases of the last century, this new case represents a major breakthrough in jurisprudence. Along with twenty years of litigation over medical and mental health care in California prisons, the 2011 Brown decision moves us from a hollowed-out vision of civil rights to the threshold of human rights.
Exposing the priority of politics over rational penal policy—and debunking the premise that these policies are necessary for public safety—this perceptive and groundbreaking book urges us to seize the opportunity to replace mass incarceration with a system anchored in the preservation of human dignity.