The American prison system has grown tenfold in thirty years, while crime rates have been relatively flat: 2 million people are behind bars on any given day, more prisoners than in any other country in the world — half a million more than in Communist China, and the largest prison expansion the world has ever known. In Going Up The River, Joseph Hallinan gets to the heart of America’s biggest growth industry, a self-perpetuating prison-industrial complex that has become entrenched without public awareness, much less voter consent. He answers, in an extraordinary way, the essential question: What, in human terms, is the price we pay? He has looked for answers to that question in every corner of the “prison nation,” a world far off the media grid — the America of struggling towns and cities left behind by the information age and desperate for jobs and money. Hallinan shows why the more prisons we build, the more prisoners we create, placating everyone at the expense of the voiceless prisoners, who together make up one of the largest migrations in our nation’s history.
If crime rates are dropping, why is the number of prisons growing rapidly? What are the cause and implications of the "prison boom"? Hallinan, winner of a Pulitzer Prize and Harvard's prestigious Nieman Fellowship, delivers a clear-eyed, sleekly written and deeply disturbing tour of the privatized prison landscape of America circa 2000, with a welcome (if unnerving) focus on the human aspect of maximum incarceration. "The merger of punishment and profit reshaping this country," he argues. Beginning with Texas ("Texas is to the prison culture of the 1990s what California was to the youth culture in the 1960s"), Hallinan details the cold calculation that fosters anticrime hysteria and the competition among postindustrial, "job-hungry" regions for a piece of the boom or "prison-industrial complex" by offering perks like tax abatements and job training. While he draws sympathetic portraits of mild-mannered wardens and ordinary folks attracted to the high pay of corrections work, he also shows how some have been transformed-not for the better-by this work. Hallinan proposes that punitive mandatory minimum sentencing and federal prosecutorial zeal inflate penal and police spending and that the post-Reagan privatization of prisons by a small group of powerful corporations has led to harsh "unintended circumstances" ranging from escapes, to the brutalization of nonviolent offenders, to inmate deaths resulting from medical negligence. Hallinan's documentation of malfeasance exposes the persistent erosion of important aspects of the country's social contract. This essential portrait of the current state of American justice continues a line of analyses pursued by other authors such as Christian Parenti in Lockdown America.