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Vivien Stern contends that prisons, a mainstay of punishment, are an anachronistic and probably counterproductive system for dealing with rising crime rates. Arguing that inherent flaws in the institution of prison threaten democratic values and fail to meet the needs of modern society, she makes a powerful case for implementing radical change.
Stern first discusses the evolution of imprisonment and then explores how different areas of the world approach and use incarceration as a punitive measure. She looks at life in prison across regions and across cultural traditions, describing the personal and very disturbing experiences of prisoners as well as the treatment of minorities, women, and juveniles. According to Stern, prison is a deformed society, a place of violence, corruption, and gross human rights abuses.
The author considers the many courageous efforts being made around the world to improve prisons and mitigate their built-in destructiveness, and she advocates searching for a better solution to control criminal offenses in an increasingly divided and dangerous society. Instead of locking up yet more people, she calls for a practical and positive system that reconciles and heals the breaches caused by crime.
This hard-hitting, comparative study of imprisonment exposes the waste, the horror, and the heroism of the growing worldwide business of incarceration.