Cages of Steel, edited by Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall is a compilation of essays and chapters by some fifty political prisoners and prisoners' rights activists about the reality of the American prison system. Of the books currently available on the American prison system this is the best one in terms of putting American policies of imprisonment into a social, political and economic context. The authors document how the United States criminalizes political dissent and holds many political prisoners, while denying it does so. An excellent book, highly recommended. 435 pages. ISBN 0-944624-17-0. Cost $16.95 plus $1.50 for US postage, $3.00 for overseas postage. Available from: Maisonneuve Press, P.O. Box 2980, Washington D.C. 20013-2980, (301) 277-7505
Barred: Women, Writing and Political Detention, by Barbara Harlow, examines and presents the writings of women political prisoners in Northern Ireland, Palestine, El Salvador, Egypt, South Africa and the United States. The book gives an analysis of the dynamics of resistance movements and political detention, the educational and social role of prisons and the place and treatment of women as political prisoners. All too often the role of women in revolutionary movements is minimized or ignored. This book does an invaluable job of letting the world know about women's contributions to revolutionary movements and their struggles in prison as well. Harlow examines how prison literature affects the community, in and out of prison along with the role of women in liberation movements and the treatment of women political prisoners. Highly recommended. ISBN 0-8195-6258-0, Cost $17.95 (paperback). Available from: University Press of New England, 23 South Main St. Hanover, NH. 03755. (603) 643-7107.
The Penitentiary in Crisis: From Accommodation to Riot in New Mexico, by Mark Calvin. The author is a former New Mexico assistant attorney general who was involved in investigating the causes and effects of the Santa Fe prison riot in 1980. The book takes a fairly objective analysis of the rise of the American prison movement in the 60's and 70's and how this affected the New Mexico prison system. The prison struggle is put into a historical context of the upheavals then affecting society and how this impacted the New Mexican prison population. While a bit long winded at times the book gives a graphic account of the events leading up to the riot and the riot itself. Given the current tendency towards Atough on prisoners laws, this book gives a good account of where such polices have led in the past. Cost: $19.95 (hardback), available from State University of New York Press, State University Plaza, Albany, NY. 12246.
The Rise and Fall of California's Radical Prison Movement, by Mark Cummins. This is a history of the California prison movement from 1950 to 1980, focusing on San Quentin state prison and highlighting the role that prison reading and writing played in the creation of radical prisoner ideology in those years. This was an extraordinary era in California prisons, one that saw the emergence of a highly developed radical convict resistance movement inside the walls. Cummins examines writers like Chessman, Eldridge Cleaver, George Jackson, the Black Panthers, Black Muslims and the Symbionese Liberation Army and Black Guerrilla Family. Also described are how outside activists became involved in building the prison movement and how prisoner's books were able to reach far beyond prison walls to influence opinion, events and policy.
While the book is interesting we feel it has some shortcomings, namely it ascribes the collapse of the California prison movement to it being too radical rather than to repression by the state, the overall retreat of progressive movements with the Vietnam war being won by the Vietnamese, etc. A rebuttal pointing out these fallacies in greater detail than we can run here in PLN has been written by Marti Hiken, Director of the NLG's Prison Law Project and should definitely be read by anyone who gets this book. The rebuttal was printed in Prison News Service, send them $1.00 and ask for that issue (address on page 20 of PLN). Basically, we think Cummins's book is interesting but draws the wrong conclusions. People can read it and make up their own minds. It is available for $16.95 (paper) $45.00 (hard), ISBN 0-8047-2232-3, from: Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA 94305-2235. (415) 723-9434.
Prison Violence in America, by M. Braswell, R. Montgomery and L. Lombardy. The book opens with a letter from George Jackson, excerpted from Soledad Brothers. What follows is a rather detailed and scholarly examination of numerous aspects of prison violence. Included are chapters on the impact of Ruiz v. Estelle, a historical-statistical overview of prison riots, a detailed analysis of the Attica and Santa Fe riots, theories about the causes of prison riots, prisoner on prisoner violence, prison rape, prisoner on staff violence, staff on prisoner violence, political culture and its impact on staff violence, and more. The book is well seasoned with charts, numbers, graphs, and each chapter is topped off with footnotes and exhaustive source material references. The analysis of the Santa Fe and Attica riots seemed particularly relevant to current events. It would be wise for law makers and prison policy makers to dust off this historical information... or be condemned to repeating it. Cost is $28.95.
Civil Liability in Criminal Justice, by H.E. Barrineau III. This 108 page book provides a minimalist and simplistic, but quite broad overview of § 1983 litigation. It is aimed at criminal justice employees who are likely to be sued. The book is liberally spiced with relevant case citations, but rather lacking in detailed case law analysis. This book could be an invaluable tool to the novice litigator. It provides a useful road map of case citations to help a novice navigate through the case law relevant to various types of §1983 actions. The book lacks information on civil procedure and provides no examples of how to draft briefs or motions. For the beginner, though, the book could be used as an effective learning tool. Cost is $16.95. Both Prison Violence in America and Civil Liability are available from the Anderson Publishing Company, P.O. Box 1576, Cincinnati OH 45201-1576.
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