Good Punishment? Christian Moral Practice and U.S. Imprisonment

Good Punishment? Christian Moral Practice and U.S. Imprisonment

Good Punishment? Christian Moral Practice and U.S. Imprisonment

Good Punishment? Christian Moral Practice and U.S. Imprisonment

Synopsis

More than 2 million persons occupy America's prisons and jails today -- the highest per capita incarceration rate in U.S. history. With just 6 percent of the world's population, the United States now holds 25 percent of its prisoners. At what social cost do we build and fill more prisons?

In Good Punishment? James Samuel Logan critiques the American obsession with imprisonment as punishment, calling it "retributive degradation" of the incarcerated. His analysis draws on both salient empirical data and material from a variety of disciplines -- social history, anthropology, law and penal theory, philosophy of religion -- as he uncovers the devastating social consequences (both direct and collateral) of imprisonment on such a large, unprecedented scale.

A distinctive contribution of this book lies in its development of a Christian social ethics of "good punishment" embodied as a politics of "healing memories" and "ontological intimacy." Logan earnestly explores how Christians can best engage with the real-life issues and concerns surrounding the American practice of imprisonment.

Excerpt

… here was the house of the living dead, a life like none other
on earth, and people who were special, set apart. It is this spe
cial corner that I am setting out to describe.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, House of the Dead

The Problem of Imprisonment in the United States

Today over 2.3 million persons occupy America’s various federal, state, and local prisons and jails. This number represents the highest per capita incarceration rate in U.S. history; currently more than 700 per 100,000 U.S. residents are incarcerated. Writing for the National Criminal Justice Commission, Steven Donziger has reported that, “Since 1980, the United States has engaged in the largest and most frenetic correctional buildup of any country in the history of the world.” Indeed, with just 6 percent of the world’s population, the United States now holds 25 percent of its prisoners at a cost of about $50 billion per year to process and house inmates.

If one were also to consider, in addition to the $50 billion annual cost of direct administration and maintenance of prisons and jails, the profits now routinely enjoyed by companies that employ prison labor, the annual

1. New York Times, April 9, 2003.

2. Steven R. Donziger, ed., The Real War on Crime: the National Report of the National Criminal Justice Commission (New York: HarperPerennial, 1996), p. 31.

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