Reviewed by John E. Dannenberg
Prisons Almanac is a refreshingly eclectic collection of 140 of "the most promising and uplifting prison-related news stories of the previous year" produced in classic almanac format by the Prisons Foundation. The Almanac also provides a current statistical picture of American prisons and prisoners as well as 16 commentaries of sage advice and predictions for prisons in 2004 penned by a cross-section of learned minds from around the nation.
In its first seven pages, the Almanac compactly presents highlights of the latest U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) data on American federal, military, state and privately-operated prisons and jails. Digesting many published BJS charts and tables, these numerical highlights portray the socioeconomic realities of U.S. incarceration as well as the most recent trends.
Quite naturally, these trends inspire predictions for the coming year which are presented next in 17 pages of independent thinking offered by such diverse expositors as Elton Edwards (Florida ACLU Restoration Project), author Tom Lagana (author of Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul), Paul Krassner (satirist and publisher of The Realist), Judith Trustone (founder of Sage Writers), Prof. Dianne Fenton (Criminal Justice, Livingstone College, N.C.), and several prisoner members of Sage Writers. A common theme of these writers is to relate their past incarceration experiences to offer guidance to help others change their lives for the better.
This, then, leaves the bulk of the Almanac to report on the past year's history of the lives of those in and affiliated with imprisonment in America. Drawing from the Prison Foundation's constant focus on prison-related media reports (they also publish Freedom Now! Bimonthly Digest of News You Can Use), the Almanac presentsin no particular order140 stories gleaned from broadcast media and newspapers that chronicle notable prison events from the past year. In fact, this reviewer found particularly enjoyable the random nature of the presentations because it in itself tended to emphasize the breadth of the Almanac's news coverage.
Some sample titles of the typically one-page stories are illustrative: Prison Officials Call Budget Cuts Foolish, Looking After The Children Of Prisoners, Prisoners Can't Be Kept From Donated Organs, Prisoners Form Book Club, Former Inmate Has Own Television Program, Prison Writers Challenge Rules Against Publishing, Former Inmate Visits Prison As Minister, Prisoners Will Get Right To Vote, Conjugal Visits Among Prison Reforms, Prisoners Go Home Due To Overcrowding, Meeting The Needs Of The Mentally Ill In Prison, Exonerated Prisoner Sues For Libel, Court Helps Prisoners Prove Their Innocence, Banks Seek Business From Ex-Prisoners, Banning Tobacco In Prisons Has Its Problems, Prisons To Focus On Education, Rehabilitation, Dedicated Lawyer Sticks With Incarcerated Client, and Inmates Win Free Speech Right For Internet Access.
After reading 140 such news stories from the past year, one begins to sense the current pulse of the nation in prison affairsprecisely the Almanac's intended purpose. One can only look forward to future annual editions of the Almanac as historical reference books on prisons for the generally under-informed public. Prisons Almanac is available for $69 [$45 on disk] (incl. postage and handling) from Prisons Foundation, 1718 M Street NW, #151, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 393-1511, www.PrisonsFoundation.org), prisoners may subscribe to the bimonthly Freedom News! for $19 per year.
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