In the past few years, the need for prison reform in America has reached the level of a consensus. We agree that many prison terms are too long, especially for nonviolent drug offenders; that long-term isolation is a bad idea; and that basic psychiatric and medical care in prisons is woefully inadequate. Some people believe that contracting out prison services to for-profit companies is a recipe for mistreatment. Robert Ferguson argues that these reforms barely scratch the surface of what is wrong with American prisons: an atmosphere of malice and humiliation that subjects prisoners and guards alike to constant degradation. Bolstered by insights from hundreds of letters written by prisoners, Ferguson makes the case for an entirely new concept of prisons and their purpose: an "inner architectonics of reform" that will provide better education for all involved in prisons, more imaginative and careful use of technology, more sophisticated surveillance systems, and better accountability.
The late Robert A. Ferguson was the George Edward Woodberry Professor Emeritus in Law, Literature, and Criticism at Columbia Law School. Previously he served on the faculty of the University of Chicago and as the school's Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities.