Punishment in America

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Summary || Table of Contents || Reviews

Welch, Michael (1999) Punishment in America. Thousand Oaks, California & London, England. Sage Publications, Inc.

Punishment in America offers readers a critical examination of the so-called "back end" of the criminal justice system-namely, incarceration. In doing so, the book integrates various levels of analysis ranging from the macrosociological aspects of punishment to the meso (organizational) and micro (individual) dimensions of imprisonment. The overarching themes of Punishment in America are social control and the ironic effects of incarceration. In an effort to reduce crime, the criminal justice system ironically produces various self-defeating measures. Moreover, this pitfall in current correctional policy and practice merely compounds the problem of crime.

Table of Contents

Foreward by Todd R. Clear
Chapter 1. Discovery of the Penitentiary and Emergence of Social Control
Chapter 2. Critical Criminology, Social Justice, & an Alternative View of Incarceration
Chapter 3. The Contours of Race, Social Class, and Punishment: Exploring Institutional Biases in Corrections
Chapter 4. The War on Drugs and Correctional Warehousing: Alternative Strategies for the Drug Crisis
Chapter 5. Regulating the Reproduction and Morality of Women: The Social Control of Body and Soul
Chapter 6. Jail Overcrowding, Social Sanitation and the Warehousing of the Urban Underclass
Chapter 7. A Critical Interpretation of Correctional Boot Camps as Normalizing Institutions: Discipline, Punishment, and the Military Model
Chapter 8. The Brutal Truth: The Reproduction of Violence and the Ironies of Social Control
Chapter 9. The Machinery of Death: Capital Punishment and the Ironies of Social Control
Chapter 10. The Poverty of Interest in Human Rights Violations in U.S. Prisons
Chapter 11. Prisoners with HIV/AIDS: Discrimination, Fringe Punishments, and the Reproduction of Suffering
Chapter 12. The Immigration Crisis: Detention as an Emerging Mechanism of Social Control
Chapter 13. The Corrections Industry: Economic Forces and the Prison Enterprise


"Michael Welch's book is an invitation to think. It is an invitation to think. It is an invitation to grow intellectually and critically, as a consumer of crime policy and observer of the American scene. Wri tten by a scholar who has dedicated himself to uncovering the hidden ironies of formal crime policy, this is a collection of essays of depth and significance. Those who read it will be challenged, and those who engage with the challenges contained within these pages will have their views of the realities of penal policy changed, deepened, and made more honest, more complete. More true."
--from the Foreward by Todd R. Clear, President of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences and Distinguished Professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York.

"Welch focuses primarily on structural factors and display the injustices of social policies that make some groups more at risk of imprisonment . . . pulling together an impressive body of secondary research to illustrate the socially constructed nature of crime, Welch suggests that crime and carceral policies are driven more by politics than crime.

Demonstrating that a neo-Marxian critical approach retains vibrancy, Welch offers 13 theoretically grounded and empirically rich chapters that dissect carceral policies and institutions by seeing them as the result of deeply rooted social ills.

Welch offers a provocative and generally convincing analysis of the relationship between ideology, political economy, social inequities, and social control. His work should not only encourage conventional correctional scholars to widen their empirical lens, but should rejuvenate dormant Marxian-oriented scholarship by stimulating pursuit of rigorous theory building and testing."
--Professor Jim Thomas, Northern Illinois University, quoted in the British Journal of Criminology.

"Michael Welch, a professor of Rutgers University of New Jersey, presents Punishment America, a critical analysis of the administration of justice and incarceration in the United States. However, contrary to the majority of works in the field of penology or criminology, it is not a critique of the diverse philosophies of punishment or an analysis of the relative efficacy of this or that method of making one's fellow man suffer. It is rather about critical criminology, in which Welch examines (according to his own words) some of the problems that one finds in society as well as in the administration system of justice, such as violence, violation of fundamental rights, AIDS, racism, and sexism, with the accent on their root causes: social, political, and economic inequalities.

In thirteen chapters, he offers a scathing and well-supported critique of the use of punishment and incarceration. Borrowing from Marxism, Foucault, Gary T. Marx, Goffman, Berger and Luckman, he develops his critical analysis as much from macro-sociology as from micro-sociology.

Welch's approach proposes a point of view and analyses that are unfortunately not usually present in American criminology. Is the United States justice system providing justice to African-Americans, especially since the declaration of "war on drugs"? It is uncommon to find a critical point of view as coherent and which covers so many aspects of the institutions of penal control. This book is recommended to all, particularly those who are still comfortable in the face of so much institutional violence."
--Professor Pierre Landreville, Universite de Montreal, quoted in Canadian Journal of Criminology (translated by Mendez iTranslator).

Michael Welch, un professeur de l'Universite de Rutgers du New Jersey, nous presente dans Punishment in America une analyse critique de l'administration de la justice et de l'incarceration aux Etats-Unis. Cependant, contriarement a la majorite des ouvrages dans le champe de la penologie ou du domaine correctionnel, il ne s'agit pas d'une critique des diverses philosophies de la peine ou d'une analyse de 'efficacite relative de telle ou telle facon de faire souffrir son prochain. Il s'agit plutot d'un travail de criminology critique dans lequel Michael Welch examine (selon ses propres mots) certaines problemes que l'on retrouve dans la societe et dans le systeme d'administration de la justice, tels la violation des droits fondamentaux le sida, le racisme, le sexisme en mettant l'accent sur leurs causes profondes: les inegalites socioles, politiques et economiques.

En trieze chapitres, il fait une critique cinglante et fondee de l'utilisation de la punition et de de l'incarceration dans la societe americaine. Empruntant tour a tour au Marxism, a Foucault, a Gary T. Marx, a Goffman, a Berger et Luckman il developpe son analyse critique tant des points de vue macro, meso que microsociologies.

L'approche de Welch propose un point de vue, des analyses qui sont malheureusement trop peu presentes dans la criminolgie americaine. S'il est de pluse accepte que le systeme de justice des Etats-Unis frappe de plus en plus les afro-americains, surtout depuis la declaration de "gurre a la drogue," il est peu commmun de treouver un point de vue critique aussi coherent et quo porte sur tant de'aspects des institutions de controle penal. Le livre est recommande a tous, particulierement a ceux qui sont encore a l'aise devant tant de violence institutionnelle."
--Professor Pierre Landreville, Universite de Montreal, quoted in Canadian Journal of Criminology.

"Michael Welch embarks on an interesting and useful project in Punishment in America: Social Control and the Ironies of Imprisonment, that is, he sets out to use critical criminological ideas to offer a radical critique of American correctional policy . . . Underlying each chapter is an attempt to demonstrate how political and economics forces work over time to shape the everyday practices of corrections and the way in which the public thinks about these practices. The theme that ties the chapters together is Welch's focus on the 'ironic' aspects of American corrections. By ironies he means the distance between how institutions of criminal justice are publicly represented and conceived, and how they actually operate. His concern is to show how American correctional policy is cloaked by a series of false ideologies that work to mask its actual operations and functioning.

Welch offers no pretense of value neutrality and clearly seeks to use scholarship to uncover and spotlight the hidden (and not so hidden) injustices generated by America's correctional policies . . . Punishment in America is a useful contribution to both the sociology of punishment and the sociology of institutions. By using American corrections to demonstrate that social institutions operate in the everyday world in ways that can be greatly at odds with their public representation. Welch makes an eminently sociological observation that should be of interest to those who do not work strictly out of the tradition of critical criminology. The book will be useful to instructors who would like to provide undergraduate students with an accessible introduction to critical criminology."
--Joseph DeAngelis, New York University, quoted in Punishment and Society