An accessible guide for activists, educators, and all who are interested in understanding how the prison system oppresses communities and harms individuals.

The United States incarcerates more of its residents than any other nation. Though home to 5% of the global population, the United States has nearly 25% of the world’s prisoners—a total of over 2 million people. This number continues to steadily rise. Over the past 40 years, the number of people behind bars in the United States has increased by 500%.

Journalist Victoria Law explains how racism and social control were the catalysts for mass incarceration and have continued to be its driving force: from the post-Civil War laws that states passed to imprison former slaves, to the laws passed under the “War Against Drugs” campaign that disproportionately imprison Black people. She breaks down these complicated issues into four main parts:

   1. The rise and cause of mass incarceration
   2. Myths about prison
   3. Misconceptions about incarcerated people
   4. How to end mass incarceration

Through carefully conducted research and interviews with incarcerated people, Law identifies the 21 key myths that propel and maintain mass incarceration, including:

   • The system is broken and we simply need some reforms to fix it
   • Incarceration is necessary to keep our society safe
   • Prison is an effective way to get people into drug treatment
   • Private prison corporations drive mass incarceration

“Prisons Make Us Safer” is a necessary guide for all who are interested in learning about the cause and rise of mass incarceration and how we can dismantle it.
A Note on Language
Introduction

PART 1: WHAT DRIVES THE MASS INCARCERATION BOOM? MYTHS ABOUT THE CAUSE OF MASS INCARCERATION

CHAPTER 1
The system of mass incarceration is flawed and not working as designed (or, A brief history).

CHAPTER 2
We need prisons to make us safer.

CHAPTER 3
Prisons are places of rehabilitation.

CHAPTER 4
Private prison corporations drive mass incarceration.

CHAPTER 5
Private corporations and profit from prison labor drive mass incarceration.

CHAPTER 6
Race has nothing to do with mass incarceration (or, If people of color are disproportionately incarcerated, it’s because they commit more crimes).

CHAPTER 7
“Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.” People need to take personal responsibility for their actions.

PART 2: THE MYTHS OF PRISONS AS SERVICE PROVIDERS AND SAFETY NETS

CHAPTER 8
Jails and prisons provide people with needed mental health care.

CHAPTER 9
People in prison “jump the line” for life-saving medical care.

CHAPTER 10
Incarceration is an effective way to get people into drug treatment.

PART 3: THE INVISIBLE PEOPLE BEHIND THE WALLS

CHAPTER 11
Mass incarceration only affects Black cisgender men.

CHAPTER 12
Bringing up a history of abuse and violence is simply an “abuse excuse.”

CHAPTER 13
Mass incarceration and immigrant detention are unrelated issues that can be addressed separately.

PART 4: HOW DO WE END MASS INCARCERATION?

CHAPTER 14
Most people are in prison for nonviolent drug offenses. Let them out and we’ll end mass incarceration.

CHAPTER 15
People in prison don’t resist or organize against abusive conditions.

CHAPTER 16
Prisons keep us safe from murderers and rapists.

CHAPTER 17
Incarceration and sex offender registries are necessary to keep our children safe.

CHAPTER 18
The system is broken and we simply need some reforms to fix it.

CHAPTER 19
We should make our prisons more like those in Norway.

CHAPTER 20
Prisons are the only logical and evident way to address violent crime and meet the needs of victims.

CHAPTER 21
Even if societal and political conditions are to blame, there’s nothing we can do about it.

For Further Reading
Acknowledgments
Notes
Index
Victoria Law has been researching and writing about incarceration, gender, and resistance since 2000. She is the author of Resistance Behind Bars and the coauthor of Prison By Any Other Name. Law has written about prisons and other forms of confinement for outlets including the New York Times, The Nation, Wired, and Bloomberg Businessweek. She is a cofounder of Books Through Bars–NYC and the longtime editor of the zine Tenacious: Art and Writings by Women in Prison. Connect with her at victorialaw.net or on Twitter @LVikkiml.

About

An accessible guide for activists, educators, and all who are interested in understanding how the prison system oppresses communities and harms individuals.

The United States incarcerates more of its residents than any other nation. Though home to 5% of the global population, the United States has nearly 25% of the world’s prisoners—a total of over 2 million people. This number continues to steadily rise. Over the past 40 years, the number of people behind bars in the United States has increased by 500%.

Journalist Victoria Law explains how racism and social control were the catalysts for mass incarceration and have continued to be its driving force: from the post-Civil War laws that states passed to imprison former slaves, to the laws passed under the “War Against Drugs” campaign that disproportionately imprison Black people. She breaks down these complicated issues into four main parts:

   1. The rise and cause of mass incarceration
   2. Myths about prison
   3. Misconceptions about incarcerated people
   4. How to end mass incarceration

Through carefully conducted research and interviews with incarcerated people, Law identifies the 21 key myths that propel and maintain mass incarceration, including:

   • The system is broken and we simply need some reforms to fix it
   • Incarceration is necessary to keep our society safe
   • Prison is an effective way to get people into drug treatment
   • Private prison corporations drive mass incarceration

“Prisons Make Us Safer” is a necessary guide for all who are interested in learning about the cause and rise of mass incarceration and how we can dismantle it.

Table of Contents

A Note on Language
Introduction

PART 1: WHAT DRIVES THE MASS INCARCERATION BOOM? MYTHS ABOUT THE CAUSE OF MASS INCARCERATION

CHAPTER 1
The system of mass incarceration is flawed and not working as designed (or, A brief history).

CHAPTER 2
We need prisons to make us safer.

CHAPTER 3
Prisons are places of rehabilitation.

CHAPTER 4
Private prison corporations drive mass incarceration.

CHAPTER 5
Private corporations and profit from prison labor drive mass incarceration.

CHAPTER 6
Race has nothing to do with mass incarceration (or, If people of color are disproportionately incarcerated, it’s because they commit more crimes).

CHAPTER 7
“Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.” People need to take personal responsibility for their actions.

PART 2: THE MYTHS OF PRISONS AS SERVICE PROVIDERS AND SAFETY NETS

CHAPTER 8
Jails and prisons provide people with needed mental health care.

CHAPTER 9
People in prison “jump the line” for life-saving medical care.

CHAPTER 10
Incarceration is an effective way to get people into drug treatment.

PART 3: THE INVISIBLE PEOPLE BEHIND THE WALLS

CHAPTER 11
Mass incarceration only affects Black cisgender men.

CHAPTER 12
Bringing up a history of abuse and violence is simply an “abuse excuse.”

CHAPTER 13
Mass incarceration and immigrant detention are unrelated issues that can be addressed separately.

PART 4: HOW DO WE END MASS INCARCERATION?

CHAPTER 14
Most people are in prison for nonviolent drug offenses. Let them out and we’ll end mass incarceration.

CHAPTER 15
People in prison don’t resist or organize against abusive conditions.

CHAPTER 16
Prisons keep us safe from murderers and rapists.

CHAPTER 17
Incarceration and sex offender registries are necessary to keep our children safe.

CHAPTER 18
The system is broken and we simply need some reforms to fix it.

CHAPTER 19
We should make our prisons more like those in Norway.

CHAPTER 20
Prisons are the only logical and evident way to address violent crime and meet the needs of victims.

CHAPTER 21
Even if societal and political conditions are to blame, there’s nothing we can do about it.

For Further Reading
Acknowledgments
Notes
Index

Author

Victoria Law has been researching and writing about incarceration, gender, and resistance since 2000. She is the author of Resistance Behind Bars and the coauthor of Prison By Any Other Name. Law has written about prisons and other forms of confinement for outlets including the New York Times, The Nation, Wired, and Bloomberg Businessweek. She is a cofounder of Books Through Bars–NYC and the longtime editor of the zine Tenacious: Art and Writings by Women in Prison. Connect with her at victorialaw.net or on Twitter @LVikkiml.

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