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Hard Time Blues: How Politics Built a Prison…

Hard Time Blues: How Politics Built a Prison Nation

by Sasha Abramsky

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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312268114, Hardcover)

Consider this an anti-anticrime book. Journalist Sasha Abramsky believes America's exploding prison population is a fatal threat to civil society: "A democracy collapses in on itself if a significant percentage of the population are imprisoned for crimes committed because of economic want and the lack of legitimate jobs." The numbers tell a harsh story: a quarter century ago, fewer than half a million people were behind bars in the United States; today that figure is more than two million. In Hard Time Blues, Abramsky zeroes in on the experiences of Billy Ochoa, a nonviolent repeat offender who finds himself on the losing end of three-strikes laws, and Pete Wilson, the former governor of California whose political successes were tied to crime-fighting initiatives. The most interesting parts of the book focus on the political consequences of mass incarceration. In some states, 10 percent of the black population is in prison. Others disenfranchise felony offenders. It's possible to believe the American political scene would look rather different today if these criminals were also voters. Despite these interesting observations, Hard Time Blues may have a hard time of its own appealing to readers whose own sympathies extend more to the victims of crime than the perpetrators. --John Miller

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:26 -0400)

"In September 1996, fifty-three-year-old heroin addict Billy Ochoa was sentenced to 326 years in prison. His crime: committing $2,100 worth of welfare fraud. Ochoa was sent to New Folsom supermax prison, joining thousands of other men who will spend the rest of their lives in California's teeming correctional facilities as a result of that state's tough Three Strikes law. His incarceration will cost over $20,000 a year until he dies." "Hard Time Blues weaves together the story of the growth of the American prison system over the past quarter century primarily through the story of Ochoa, a career criminal who grew up in the barrios of post-World War II L.A. Ochoa, who had a long history of nonviolent crimes committed to fund his drug habit, and cycled in and out of prison since the late 1960s, is a perfect example of how perennial misfits, rather than blood-soaked violent criminals, make up the majority of America's prisoners. This is also the story of the burgeoning careers of politicians such as former California governor Pete Wilson, who rose to power on the "crime issue." Wilson, whose grandfather was a cop murdered by drug-runners in early twentieth-century Chicago, scored a stunning come-from-behind reelection victory in 1994. In so doing, he came to epitomize the 1990s tough-on-crime politician."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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