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Articles by Peter Wagner

Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie

A Prison Policy Initiative briefing

by Peter Wagner and Leah Sakala

Wait, does the United States have 1.4 million or more than 2 million people in prison? And do the 688,000 people released every year include those getting out of local jails? Frustrating questions like these abound because ...

In Memory of Jon E. Yount (1938-2012)

Sometime in the early morning of April 26, 2012, in his cell in a remote Pennsylvania prison, a 74-year-old jailhouse lawyer serving a life sentence hung himself. He was a quiet man who avoided taking credit for his work, so many people in and outside of prison don’t know ...

Momentum Builds to End Prison-Based Gerrymandering

Four states and hundreds of local governments are standing up to reject one of the most repugnant aspects of the prison industrial complex: Legislators with prisons located in their districts who claim the people incarcerated there – who cannot vote – as their “constituents,” then use their newfound political clout to further ...

Prison Town Legislators Represent Prisoners' Interests? Not Quite

On June 7, 2004, talks between the New York State Senate and the Assembly on how to best reform the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws broke down. Publicly, the dispute is over ideological disagreements, but an obscure Census quirk that counts prisoners as residents of the prison's legislative district may ...

Local Officials Tell Prisoners: "You don't live here"

Many prison town officials are quick to claim prisoners as residents when the Census Bureau comes to town, but prisoners report that this is the only time these officials are so welcoming.


The Census Bureau counts the nation's mostly urban prisoners as if they were residents of the prison ...

Thirty Three Years after Attica: Many more Blacks in prison, but not as guards

by Peter Wagner and Rose Heyer

In September 1971, thousands of prisoners at Attica prison in rural New York State rebelled, taking control of D-yard. Sixty-three percent of the prisoners were Black or Latino, but at that time there were no Blacks and only one Latino as guards. Seventy percent ...

California's Budget Secret: Prisoners Form Core of Forest Fire Fighting Army

California's Budget Secret: Prisoners Form Core
of Forest Fire Fighting Army

by Peter Wagner


In California, up to three quarters of
the crew members fighting California fires are prisoners. In exchange for a reduction in sentence length, 4,100 minimum security prisoners work fighting fires and on public works ...

Crime Control as Industry: Towards Gulags, Western Style

by Nils Christie, Routledge Press (2000 Rev. Ed.) 244 pages, Paperback

Review by Peter Wagner


The heavily revised third edition (2000) of Crime Control As Industry: Towards Gulags, Western Style is an essential guide to understanding the incarceration boom and considering how we can turn it around. The first book ...

Book Review: Law and the Rise of Capitalism

by Michael E. Tigar & Madeleine R. Levy, New (2000) Edition by Michael E. Tigar, Monthly Review Press, 348 pages, $18.00

Review by Peter Wagner

Famed litigator and scholar Michael Tigar has reissued his 1977 classic Law and the Rise of Capitalism with a new introduction and afterword that contains further amplification of his "jurisprudence of insurgency" thesis. The law both reflects society's social structure and is a mechanism for its evolution. Law and the Rise of Capitalism traces the twin development of the law and economic relations to the present. Starting in the twelfth century with the rise of a merchant class and their need for an enforceable contract law, Tigar explains how the merchant class came into opposition with the existing feudal political and legal establishment.

The afterword extends the thesis to a discussion of the dialectical nature of international law: useful to powerful states that wish to exert their will on smaller states such as Yugoslavia, but also useful in bringing human rights violators to justice. To Tigar, law is neither the product of society nor its creator; and it is neither the defender nor the Achille's heel of the status quo. Rather, law is both, and by understanding this history and role, Tigar aids those struggling for justice in seeing the positive role that the law can play.

This unique book ...