|Imagine a prison built "not because it was needed but because it was wanted--by politicians who thought it would bring them votes, by voters who hoped it would bring them jobs, and by a corrections establishment that no longer believed in correction." In exploring America's prison system--a system that holds more inmates than any other country in the world--Joseph Hallinan discovered that crime was big business. Further, he writes, "Few people complain. Prisons are tremendous public works projects, throwing off money as a wet dog throws off water."|
In Going up the River, Hallinan comprehensively chronicles America's prisons, investigating how prison authority has passed from hard-nosed wardens to the federal court system, a change that simultaneously improved the treatment of prisoners while making inmate rehabilitation and safety more difficult to attain. He also addresses the prison boom: facilities quickly built for economic reasons, resulting in poor prison conditions and a system "so lucrative its founders have become rich men." This immense financial gain is ironically juxtaposed with the fact that most people view prisons as a terrible waste of money.
Hallinan also relays the stories of current wardens, guards, inmates, and even townspeople living in the shadow of a prison. He also focuses on the many challenges prisoners face, including gangs, fighting, and rape, as well as the sensitivity of controversial issues such as conjugal visits. The book makes obvious that America's prison system is in disarray, though neither the source nor the solution can be easily isolated. Hallinan does not offer answers or personal opinions; instead, he presents all angles and leaves the reader to consideration. --Jacque Holthusen