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5.0 out of 5 stars Poverty and Punishment, 29 Aug 2012
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This review is from: Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity (Politics, History, & Culture) (Paperback)
Loic Wacquants dense and detailed book "Punishing the Poor" charts the changes in Public Welfare and Penal policies during the Neo-Liberal era. His critique is compelling: States have retreated from their responsibilities to the majority of the population in the economic sphere, turned welfare into machine for forcing workers into the ever growing precarious sector of the labour market, and dealt with those areas, classes and ethnicities who have suffered the most at the hands of the lack of stable employment opportunities and adequate social security with relentless and intruisive policing followed up with grotesque levels of incarceration.

The focus is primarily on the experience of the United States. Part 1 - "The Poverty of the Social State" details the welfare reforms of the post-civil rights era that culminated in the Clinton era "Workfare" act of 1996. With respect to the black population, as well as latinos, a strong case is made for regarding the changes to the labour market and welfare entitlements as functioning as a further stage of repression following slavery and the post-reconstruction "Jim Crow" era following the gains of the civil rights movements of the 1960's.

Part 2 - "Grandeur of the Penal State" charts the inexorable rise of incarceration during the Neoliberal era, the class and "race" dimensions of this immense (2,000,000+) penal obsession. Wacquant regards "workfare and prisonfare" as two sides of the same coin: workfare attacking the welfare of women to encourage them en masse to participate in a precarious labour market where they are no better off, and prisonfare as being the response to the troublesome lower class casualties of a Neoliberal economy that is not able, nor meant to, offer them employment or other prospects.

Part 3 - "Priviliged Targets" is divided into two distinct case studies, the first being "The Prison as Surrogate Ghetto" deals in further detail with black experience of the penal system; and "Moralism and Punitive Panopticism" engages with the subject of prison and sexual offenders in a refreshingly objective manner, charting the moral posturing of politicians and the media against a punitive regime that may well increase rates of recidivism, and arguing for a dispassionate, rigorously scientific re-look at the whole question of sexual offenders with a view to reducing rates of re-offending and providing the most effective protection of the public.

The final part "European Declinations" charts the growing European tendancy to follow the example of the United States. It begins with a comprehensive debunking of zero-tolerance policing in particular that of New Yorks Mayor Rudy Giuliani, before moving on to general European turn to a workfare and prisonfare state, with particular focus on the experience of Wacquants native France.

The biggest, but far from fatal, shortcoming of the book is the occasional descent into what might be regarded as academic jargon. The introduction is particularly guilty of this, but I would encourage readers to work their way through this as they will be rewarded with a fascinating and holistic account of the Neoliberal State and its relations (Penal and Welfare/Workfare) with those who have lost most during its seemingly inexorable rise. Well recommended.
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S Wood
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Location: Scotland

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