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Supermax: Controlling Risk Through Solitary Confinement [Paperback]

Sharon Shalev
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

1 Sep 2009

This book examines the rise and proliferation of 'Supermaxes', large prisons dedicated to holding prisoners in prolonged and strict solitary confinement, in the United States since the late 1980s.

Drawing on unique access to two Supermax prisons and on in-depth interviews with prison officials, prison architects, current and former prisoners, mental health professionals, penal, legal, and human rights experts, it provides a holistic view of the theory, practice and consequences of these prisons. Given the historic uses of solitary confinement, the book also traces continuities and discontinuities in its use on both sides of the Atlantic over the last two centuries.

It argues that rather than being an entirely 'new' form of imprisonment, Supermax prisons draw on principles of architecture, surveillance and control which were set out in the early 19th century but which are now enhanced by the most advanced technologies available to current day prison planners and administrators. It asks why a form of confinement which had been discredited in the past is now proposed as the best solution for dealing with 'difficult', 'dangerous' or 'disruptive' prisoners, and assesses the true costs of Supermax confinement.

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Supermax: Controlling Risk Through Solitary Confinement + The Globalization of Supermax Prisons (Critical Issues in Crime and Society)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Willan (1 Sep 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843924080
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843924081
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 15.9 x 23.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,074,979 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

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Product Description


Winner of the 2010 British Society of Criminology Book Prize

‘This is an extraordinarily important book, full of rare insights and invaluable information. Shalev uses a well balanced blend of theory and data — including observations, interviews, and official documents —to lay bare the harsh and dehumanizing realities of these draconian prison environments... The book is extremely well written, engaging, and astute. It is a must read for scholars, prison policy-makers, and interested citizens alike.’
-Professor Craig Haney, University of California, Santa Cruz

‘Sharon Shalev combines theoretical skill and a fine eye for empirical detail to ask and answer all the right questions about these extraordinary (and expanding) institutions...Shalev succeeds where much literature on imprisonment fails: comparing the "internal" technologies of control —architectural design, techniques of constant surveillance, daily routine—with the "external" ideologies of justification. An important book.’
-Professor Stanley Cohen, Emeritus Professor, London School of Economics

‘The "Supermax" makes a high-technology contribution to the art of institutionalized inhumanity —offering architectural settings and regimes for physically isolating prisoners for protracted periods of time in extremely deprived circumstances, under the guise of achieving security-centered penological objectives. Sharon Shalev has provided us with a long-overdue authoritative, meticulously-researched portrait and thoughtful, scholarly analysis of this draconian innovation.’
-Professor Hans Toch, School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany

'Throughout this book, Shalev creates an atmosphere that makes the reader feel as though they are within the walls of the most secure prison in the US.

Supermax is an interesting and provocative book filled with important and rare observation which are critical for understanding the inner controls of supermax prisons. The macro- and micro-level analysis of supermax prisons is ideal for a variety of readers, even those with rudimentary knowledge of the supermax phenomenon. The theoretical approach, coupled with extensive reference to empirical data, provides a unique vantage point from which to examine supermax prisons in the US. Supermax is a must read for prison scholars, policy makers, academics, or anyone fascinated with, or interested in, the rise of these institutions.' - Rachelle Larocque, PhD Candidate, Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge in the Howard Journal, May 2011 

'This is a very thought provoking book.'
- Donald Urquhart, Retired Police Officer and Chair of the Scottish Community Safety Network

'Shalev ultimately provides a meticulous, authoritative account that effectively combines theory with documentary material in an accessible format. In this regard Supermax provides for a broad readership including academics, students and the general public while also serving as vital reading for legal practitioners and advocates, correctional staff and policymakers along with interested community members.'

'Shalev presents powerful arguments against supermax that are crafted in a way which ultimately confronts and cuts through the official reasoning and rhetoric that comprise powerful justificatory discourses underpinning the continuing push for prison securitization. It is for this reason and along with others described above that Shalev’s book is a must read.'
-Bree Carlton, School of Political and Social Inquiry, Monash University, in the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology, Vol 44 Iss 2

'This is a highly accomplished work based upon what must have been a particularly harrowing piece of research regarding the supermax prison estate in the United States.'

'It is a highly accessible and compelling piece...extremely interesting and stimulating to read...'

'This is a stimulating and thought-provoking book on a matter that is at the extremes of penological debate, however the overarching themes of security and risk management as justifications for such measures integrate the book well into wider debates surrounding punishment in the 21st century. It is a refreshing engagement with the wider view of the offender and society being potential victims of an over-enthusiastic penal policy...I would recommend this book to anyone interested in punishment and penal policy.'
-Jennifer Sloan, University of Sheffield, in International Review of Victimology, vol 17 no 2.

About the Author

Sharon Shalev is a Fellow at the Mannheim Centre for Criminology at the London School of Economics.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars superbook 24 Aug 2010
I am neither an academic nor professionally involved with prisons or prisoners, but bought this book for the purposes of researching my next novel, set in an American prison. It's a stunning, sobering read. Shalev manages to combine scholarly research, based not only on theory and documentation but, crucially, on interviews with prisoners in these most brutal of penal establishments, and a winning style which makes the book accessible to any interested reader. It is the rare theoretician who has the literary skills to make her arguments readable without at any time losing the gravitas of knowledge - I know this from my own professional background in psychoanalysis - but Shalev wields her pen with as much creativity as intellect. It has recently won a major criminology award, so is very properly recognised and lauded by the author's peers and I recommend it highly to anyone curious about this appalling example of American fundamentalism
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