A New Kind of Bondage

Historians in the News
tags: books, book reviews, Tony Platt, Mass Incarceration

Jason S. Sexton is Visiting Research Fellow at UCLA’s California Center for Sustainable Communities. He recently served as the Interim California State University Associate Dean of Academic Programs. He is the Editor-at-Large of Boom California (UC Press).

TONY PLATT’S Beyond These Walls provides a relentless critique of the United States’s carceral regime, prompting us to rethink how criminal justice institutions operate. Platt questions the assumption that crime is a matter of personal choice, exposing the double standard that exempts the majority of corporate and governmental perpetrators from punishment while routinely incarcerating the poor and socially marginalized. In his words, the book serves as

a call to think in new and bolder ways about familiar issues, such as what prisons might have in common with barrios, ghettos, and reservations, and to consider the importance of unfamiliar issues, such as the central role played by private security in policing and how the public welfare system catalogs and dehumanizes poor women in ways that are similar to how the jails catalog and dehumanize poor men.

Through a mix of careful reasoning and passionate anger, Platt presents a rich, multilayered history of the labyrinth of social control that has evolved over the past several decades, highlighting the overwhelming reach and power of the state. This is no blunt polemic but rather a meticulous weaving of details into a coherent argument about the nature of social control in the contemporary United States. This control, becoming ever more extensive and refined in its jurisdiction, has yielded powerful forms of group repression, consigning an entire population — made up predominantly of people of color and poor whites — to a new kind of bondage. As Platt makes clear, sentencing laws and other reformist efforts to deal with the runaway problem haven’t really addressed the issue of mass incarceration at all, nor have they displaced the punitive ethos that dominates the criminal justice system.

Read entire article at LA Review of Books

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