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Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire

Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire
Robert Perkinson
New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010
HV9475.T4 P47 2010

In the prison business, all roads lead back to Texas. A pioneer in criminal justice severity–from mandatory sentencing to prison privatization, from supermax isolation to assembly-line executions–Texas is the most locked-down state in the most incarcerated country in the world. Texas Tough, a sweeping tour of southern justice from slavery to the present, explains how this punishment colossus came into being and how a plantation-based penal system once dismissed as barbaric became a template for the nation.

Drawing on archival research and interviews with prisoners, guards, judges, and lawmakers, historian Robert Perkinson reveals the southern origins of America's prison state. He traces the development of two modes of criminal discipline, the North's rehabilitative approach and the South's emphasis on retribution and profit, and shows how an unforgiving, racially divisive model ultimately triumphed. Most provocatively, he argues that just as Jim Crow, lynching, and convict leasing took hold in response to emancipation and Reconstruction, so today's mass imprisonment must be understood as a reaction to civil rights protests and desegregation.

An epic story of convict rebellions, spirited reform movements, and fearsome crackdowns, Texas Tough makes clear why the world's oldest republic has built the most expansive prison system in the history of democratic governance and why racial disparities in criminal justice have worsened over the past forty years, despite the breakthroughs of civil rights.

Perkinson's account of political demagoguery and persistent injustice underscores the bankruptcy of America's singularity vengeful approach to lawbreaking. Yet, by illuminating forgotten alternatives, it also holds out hope for the future. At a moment when budget shortfalls and a changing political climate have made reform possible for the first time in a generation, this forceful, engaging book is vital reading. At stake is not just the fate of the 2.4 million Americans living behind bars but the vibrancy of American ideals.

Quoted from dustjacket.