The Pains of Mass Imprisonment, by Benjamin Fleury-Steiner and Jamie Longazel, Routledge, 2013, 96 pages, paperback $12.95.
The Pains of Mass Imprisonment carefully explores the magnitude of mass imprisonment in the United States, especially among people of color. The authors do this by presenting the readers with the voices and lived experiences of individuals in harsh prison conditions. Fleury-Steiner is an assistant professor at the University of Delaware, where he teaches courses on inequality, mass imprisonment, and the death penalty. Longazel is an assistant professor in multiple departments at the University of Dayton, including sociology, anthropology, and social work. The authors critically engage these life stories to broaden awareness of the challenges faced by disproportionately oppressed groups. Social work students are likely to eventually work with families of offenders, so it is beneficial to learn more about mass imprisonment in the United States.
As described in Chapter 1, confinement causes serious repercussions to the prisoner’s well being, affecting both health and family relationships. The lack of medical attention and adequate care is called inhumane, as is the nearly permanent loss of contact with family. Prisoners are incapable of seeing children and other family members because of restrictive visitation rules and inaccessible rural penal institutions across the country. Insufficient funds leave these poor minority families broken.
In Chapter 2, Steiner and Longazel express their concern for the disregarded government regulations restricting work systems in prisons. The prison industry often puts financial interests before the prisoners’ basic needs for health and safety. Workplace safety regulations that would be used in the free world seem to be nonexistent in most correctional institutions, leading to serious medical conditions often left untreated because of lack of trained professionals working within the penal system. Prisoners are unlikely to report any inappropriate work environments for fear of retaliation by correctional officers.
Chapter 3 explores the deprivation of heterosexual relationships within the institution. With the lack of heterosexual relationships comes an increase in sexual violence, deprivation, and intimidation. With prisoners being scared to turn guards in, there are many cases of abuse. Intimidation leads to silence.
In Chapter 4, Steiner and Longazel explore the intense isolation within super-max facilities. Incarceration takes away individual liberty, but solitary confinement leads to loss of control, suicidal ideations, aggression, cognitive dysfunction, and depression. These disorders go untreated and prisoners, when released, enter the free world with extra baggage. Increased likelihood of recidivism is due to mental illness and violence.
In Chapter 5, the authors explore the brutality inside the prison that leads to psychological trauma. Within the prison, guards use violence as a way of interacting with serious offenders, thereby "normalizing" violence. This encourages prisoner-on-prisoner violence and leaves inmates without a clear judgment of where to draw the line.
From healthcare inadequacies to intense isolation, this book gave me a better understanding of what inmates suffer and the traumas they endure. Most inmates will return home. As a social work student, I believe the authors have better prepared me to work with individuals within the penal system who are being denied their basic human rights and ex-offenders when they come home. The emotional impact of the stories shared will help readers gain a broader understanding of the desperation within the penal systems. Steiner and Longazel make a strong case for penal reform.
Reviewed by Franke J. Gonzales, BSW student, the University of South Dakota.