23/7: Pelican Bay Prison and the Rise of Long-Term Solitary Confinement

23/7: Pelican Bay Prison and the Rise of Long-Term Solitary Confinement Book Reviews 1091 providing a close reading of the tv show Dex- and Keramet Reiter’s new book helps us - un ter (2006–2013). derstand why (p. 58). 23/7 tells the story of supermax confine - By covering a wide ground—from legal cases to Dirty Harry (1971), from the religious ment with a rare combination of academic rigor and page-turning narration. Drawing on Right to last meals, from national discourse to extensive original research and interviews, she local politics—LaChance shows compellingly argues that the practice and extreme isolation and convincingly that punishment provides a at Pelican Bay emerged not primarily through major gateway to exploring a society and cul - “penal populism,” or the public demand for ture, its paradigms and politics. However, if tough-on-crime policies but rather through the death penalty is the paradigmatic punish - the administrative discretion of prison officials ment of the late liberal state, it raises a ques - acting with little or no oversight by lawmakers tion for future studies: Why has its return in or citizens. The primary objective of the shu the United States been unique in the Western was to manage and control black radicalism world? in California prisons, epitomized by the black Jürgen Martschukat radical organizer and intellectual George - Jack Erfurt University son. To this day, Jackson’s writings are consid - Erfurt, Germany ered contraband in California prisons and may be used as evidence of gang affiliation. doi: 10.1093/jahist/jax549 23/7 offers both a structural analysis of the conditions that gave rise to supermax prisons 23/7: Pelican Bay Prison and the Rise of Long- and a vivid account of the way these structures Term Solitary Confinement . By Keramet R eiter. impact the lives of people on both sides of the (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016. x, razor wire. The book begins with a sensitive 302 pp. $32.50.) and nuanced portrait of the prisoner Todd Ashker, who spent close to thirty years in con - Pelican Bay State Prison is an exceptional tinuous isolation in the California shu. Ashker space and a paradigmatic example of the logic is labeled as a member of the Aryan Brother - of punishment in the United States today. hood—a charge he denies, although he does Situated in a clear-cut in the redwood forests have a number of swastika tattoos from his of northern California, the prison contains youth. The book concludes with an account over one thousand windowless cells for the of the California prison hunger strikes, which isolation of prisoners labeled “the worst of the Ashker helped organize among black and worst.” Until recently, many of these p -rison brown prisoners labeled as rival gang mem - ers were isolated indefinitely as a result of a bers. Between these bookends—which ar - e al Kafka-esque policy that marked people as ready remarkable for the contrast between the gang members or associates on the basis of stigma of criminalization and the power of scant evidence, leaving them no way out of prison reform movements—Reiter sketches a solitary but to “parole, snitch, or die” (p. 145). concise and comprehensive history of the role As a result of this policy, some California that prison administrators, architects, corr - ec prisoners have spent years—even decades— tional officer’s unions, and even well-meaning confined for twenty-three hours per day in legal authorities played in constructing and an eight-by-ten-foot Security Housing Unit consolidating the supermax prison. 23/7 is es- (shu), with one hour per day for exercise in an sential reading for anyone who cares about civ - eight-by-twenty-foot “dog run.” After hunger il rights, social justice, and the criminal legal strikes by prisoners at Pelican Bay in 2011 and system in America. 2013, as well as hearings by state lawmakers Lisa Guenther and the settlement of a major class-acti- on law Queen’s University suit, the policy and practice of solitar -y con Kingston, Canada finement in California is changing. But “an archipelago of concrete boxes” still remains, doi: 10.1093/jahist/jax550 Downloaded from https://academic.oup.com/jah/article-abstract/104/4/1091/4932727 by Ed 'DeepDyve' Gillespie user on 16 March 2018 http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The Journal of American History Oxford University Press

23/7: Pelican Bay Prison and the Rise of Long-Term Solitary Confinement

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© The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com.
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Abstract

Book Reviews 1091 providing a close reading of the tv show Dex- and Keramet Reiter’s new book helps us - un ter (2006–2013). derstand why (p. 58). 23/7 tells the story of supermax confine - By covering a wide ground—from legal cases to Dirty Harry (1971), from the religious ment with a rare combination of academic rigor and page-turning narration. Drawing on Right to last meals, from national discourse to extensive original research and interviews, she local politics—LaChance shows compellingly argues that the practice and extreme isolation and convincingly that punishment provides a at Pelican Bay emerged not primarily through major gateway to exploring a society and cul - “penal populism,” or the public demand for ture, its paradigms and politics. However, if tough-on-crime policies but rather through the death penalty is the paradigmatic punish - the administrative discretion of prison officials ment of the late liberal state, it raises a ques - acting with little or no oversight by lawmakers tion for future studies: Why has its return in or citizens. The primary objective of the shu the United States been unique in the Western was to manage and control black radicalism world? in California prisons, epitomized by the black Jürgen Martschukat radical organizer and intellectual George - Jack Erfurt University son. To this day, Jackson’s writings are consid - Erfurt, Germany ered contraband in California prisons and may be used as evidence of gang affiliation. doi: 10.1093/jahist/jax549 23/7 offers both a structural analysis of the conditions that gave rise to supermax prisons 23/7: Pelican Bay Prison and the Rise of Long- and a vivid account of the way these structures Term Solitary Confinement . By Keramet R eiter. impact the lives of people on both sides of the (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016. x, razor wire. The book begins with a sensitive 302 pp. $32.50.) and nuanced portrait of the prisoner Todd Ashker, who spent close to thirty years in con - Pelican Bay State Prison is an exceptional tinuous isolation in the California shu. Ashker space and a paradigmatic example of the logic is labeled as a member of the Aryan Brother - of punishment in the United States today. hood—a charge he denies, although he does Situated in a clear-cut in the redwood forests have a number of swastika tattoos from his of northern California, the prison contains youth. The book concludes with an account over one thousand windowless cells for the of the California prison hunger strikes, which isolation of prisoners labeled “the worst of the Ashker helped organize among black and worst.” Until recently, many of these p -rison brown prisoners labeled as rival gang mem - ers were isolated indefinitely as a result of a bers. Between these bookends—which ar - e al Kafka-esque policy that marked people as ready remarkable for the contrast between the gang members or associates on the basis of stigma of criminalization and the power of scant evidence, leaving them no way out of prison reform movements—Reiter sketches a solitary but to “parole, snitch, or die” (p. 145). concise and comprehensive history of the role As a result of this policy, some California that prison administrators, architects, corr - ec prisoners have spent years—even decades— tional officer’s unions, and even well-meaning confined for twenty-three hours per day in legal authorities played in constructing and an eight-by-ten-foot Security Housing Unit consolidating the supermax prison. 23/7 is es- (shu), with one hour per day for exercise in an sential reading for anyone who cares about civ - eight-by-twenty-foot “dog run.” After hunger il rights, social justice, and the criminal legal strikes by prisoners at Pelican Bay in 2011 and system in America. 2013, as well as hearings by state lawmakers Lisa Guenther and the settlement of a major class-acti- on law Queen’s University suit, the policy and practice of solitar -y con Kingston, Canada finement in California is changing. But “an archipelago of concrete boxes” still remains, doi: 10.1093/jahist/jax550 Downloaded from https://academic.oup.com/jah/article-abstract/104/4/1091/4932727 by Ed 'DeepDyve' Gillespie user on 16 March 2018

Journal

The Journal of American HistoryOxford University Press

Published: Mar 1, 2018

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