23/7: Pelican Bay Prison and the Rise of Long-Term Solitary Confinement

23/7                                                                    KERAMET REITER

Originally meant to be brief and exceptional, solitary confinement in U.S. prisons has become long-term and common. Prisoners spend twenty-three hours a day in featureless cells, with no visitors or human contact for years on end, and they are held entirely at administrators’ discretion. Keramet Reiter tells the history of one “supermax,” California’s Pelican Bay State Prison, whose extreme conditions recently sparked a statewide hunger strike by 30,000 prisoners. This book describes how Pelican Bay was created without legislative oversight, in fearful response to 1970s radicals; how easily prisoners slip into solitary; and the mental havoc and social costs of years and decades in isolation. The product of fifteen years of research in and about prisons, this book provides essential background to a subject now drawing national attention.


This is a book this takes a look at the term solitary confinement of prisoners in the state of California and throughout the U.S. The author gives some background on the prison system and the reason behind building a prison named Pelican Bay. He also refers a lot in the back to a 1970’s incident with an Inmate George Jackson, his attempted escape from San Quinten and the death of three prison guards and then months later the riot at Attica Prison in New York as one of the many reasons for the building of these new prisons in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I felt that the author continually blamed officers or as he put it guards for most or all of the problems going on, that really gangs do not exist except as something that is made up. One of the inmates that he interviewed for the book had numerous swastikas tattoo on his body. I don’t think this individual could walk down the street in south central Los Angeles or any other inner city and not draw negative attention to himself, he also most likely would not sit down with people of another race to have dinner with them, for these tattoos are symbols of hatred. This is just one example. Not saying that there are no problems but when the government in the 80’s closed down mental health facilities where were people supposed to go for help. Now the author points out that only 4% of the population have mental health problems, but in prison and jails this is higher. Well it is if he would have looked into the departments guidelines of what is defined as mental health issues and that of let’s say the county jail of L.A. he would see that they are not the same as on the outside. If a person as a child was taken ridilin for ADHD for example, that person has to go through a series of exams, tests. There are many other example but the author only looked at one issue. He did not look at the programs that were discontinued auto mechanics, and auto body, sheet metal work, woodworking, even cooking and baking to just name a few. For the author to believe that the only violence in the prisons is caused by the guards or officers is short-sighted on his end, and just as in his profession there are good individuals and not so good. Would have be nice if he would have talked to people that had actually worked inside the walls and maybe got a little different view. I think there are problems with every system but I do not want people to commit crimes once they are released because there is nothing for them on the outside except crime. The author said he would want to have dinner with one of the men he interviewed but would he really want to bring him into his home? That is the question. I received this book from Netgalley.com.

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