It’s About Time: America’s Imprisonment Binge

‘It’s About Time : America’s Imprisonment Binge’ by John Irwin, Professor  Emeritus, San Francisco State University and James Austin, member of National Councilor Crime and Delinquency, deals extensively with the US Government tendency to use prisons as the sole way of dealing with crime and criminals. The book in a compelling way talks about the devastating impact upon individuals within the prison system. Published by Wadsworth Publishing Co. Inc. in 1996 and consisting about 256 pages; this book based of cutting edge research is perhaps the single most important book on the problems with American imprisonment.

This book that is based on original research discusses the imprisonment binge, who goes to prison, imprisonment of children and women, private prisons, doing time, lockup turmoil, consequences of lockup… it has been widely adopted for both undergraduate and graduate  courses at universities across the country. Personally, I believe every lawmaker should read and consider before they vote to spend another dime of the taxpayers’ money on new prison construction. Severe prison overcrowding had become a major problem throughout the nation by the mid-1990s.

Factors contributing to overcrowded conditions included get-tough-on-crime laws and the "war on drugs. " These initiatives led to the elimination of parole for certain crimes, requirements for longer sentences, and an increase in the types of crimes requiring imprisonment. Only nine states operated below their bed capacity with the national average being 130 percent of capacity. The federal prison system and several states reported populations exceeding 150 percent capacity.

Despite a huge prison-building program in the 1980s, California prisons remained overcrowded at 175 percent of capacity in 1997. Accommodating inmate population means double bunking in single cells and transporting inmates from state to state where empty beds can be found. The new rapidly constructed prisons generally have only minimal facilities required to house and maintain prisoners. Rehabilitation has given way to keeping order. Maximum-security prisoners spend 22 to 23 hours a day in barren cells.

Recreation occurs in exercise "cages" and access to education, self-help programs, and health care is minimal. To add to the problem as shown by the researchers there is little evidence that America’s imprisonment campaign will end soon. As many states have embraced the policy of “truth in sentencing” and other sentencing policies advocated by all political parties, the prison population will likely balloon to over 1. 6 million by the end of the decade. Between 1990 and 1998, the prison population grew at an alarming average of 6 percent per annum.

Further statistics revealed in the book show that 1,130 new prison beds are to be constructed every week. As in 1998, 83,527 prison beds were under construction and an additional 86,416 were being planned to be built over the next few years. However, even this massive construction program represents a futile effort to match up with the ever-increasing prison population. The book presents a critical study based on the major trends in American penitentiaries. There are in total ten chapters dealing with the following topics in detail.