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The Warehouse Prison, by Dr. John Irwin, 318 pp., softback, Roxbury Publishing Company, 2005

Reviewed by John E. Dannenberg

Taking Californias Solano State Prison as a model, author John Irwin exposes the warehouse concept of Californias prisons and its debilitating effect on prisoners and their struggle for reintegration. Dr. Irwin, conflating his unique perspectives as both a San Francisco State University Professor of Criminology and a former prisoner at Soledad State Prison, personally examines and analyzes the inner workings of prisons as well as the impact of the warehouse system on prisoners and society. As entertainingly written as it is poignant, this book offers incredibly realistic introspection into every aspect of the prison experience. It is recommended reading for prisoners, their families and the public, who all pay for yet jointly suffer from the hopelessness of the current retributive warehouse incarceration model.

Chapters 1 and 2 recount the swing to the imprisonment binge of the past few decades, seeking ever harsher punishment. Incisive histories of early English and American prisons, replete with the development of the convict code and social structure, chronicle the encroaching demise of the early rehabilitative model.

Focusing on (by working within) Solano State Prison, Professor Irwin examines in Chapters 3 and 4 the physical plant as well as the administrative regimens and guard culture that permeate the atmosphere. He details extant prisoner programs, including educational, vocational and voluntary self-help activities. The inner workings of Solano are examined with respect to race, social structure and prisoner adaptation.

Chapter 5 goes outside Solano, reviewing supermax prisons, life in a Security Housing Unit (SHU) and the severe psychological and social impairment devolving from this experience. The details of SHU living are mandatory reading for those who dont know its brutal effect. The harm from such stressors is chronicled in Chapter 6, covering in grim detail the damage to prisoners self esteem, sexual orientation, anger and sense of justice.

Return to society, reentry, is discussed with respect to both SHU discharge and general population releases. The impossibility of success that attaches to being unceremoniously dumped from total lockup (e.g., supermax SHU) into mainstream society is revealed in actual prisoner testimonials. Indeed, the whole book is replete with quotations from prisoners Professor Irwin met during his years of research.

In Chapters 8 and 9, Professor Irwin defines the New Dangerous Class of released prisoners and their impact on the war on crime. He discusses the recent trend towards job discrimination against ex-cons and its counterproductive effect on the governments attempted war on poverty. Irwin waxes political, blaming the conservatives for a national trend of vindictiveness, ultimately spawning the long-term demise of civil rights and the rise of the Prison-Industrial Complex. Professor Irwins conclusions are couched in despair: The rich will keep getting richer ... and the poor, particularly, the non-white poor, will continue to get prison.

The Warehouse Prison concludes with an afterword by Criminologist Barbara Owen (California State University, Fresno), who discusses the unique problems attending women prisoners. This sobering discussion recounts the additional debilitation attending sexual pressures, pregnancy, and the loss of children, dignity, and physical safety.

The book includes detailed subject, author, and reference indexes, making it a valuable research tool. This is Professor Irwins second carceral sociology book, following his 1970 classic, The Felon.

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