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Inferno: An Anatomy of American Punishment (Hardback)
  • Inferno: An Anatomy of American Punishment (Hardback)
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Inferno: An Anatomy of American Punishment (Hardback)

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£23.95
Hardback 310 Pages / Published: 21/03/2014
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America's criminal justice system is broken. The United States punishes at a higher per capita rate than any other country in the world. In the last twenty years, incarceration rates have risen 500 percent. Sentences are harsh, prisons are overcrowded, life inside is dangerous, and rehabilitation programs are ineffective. Police and prosecutors operate in the dark shadows of the legal process--sometimes resigning themselves to the status quo, sometimes turning a profit from it. The courts define punishment as "time served," but that hardly begins to explain the suffering of prisoners.

Looking not only to court records but to works of philosophy, history, and literature for illumination, Robert Ferguson, a distinguished law professor, diagnoses all parts of a now massive, out-of-control punishment regime. He reveals the veiled pleasure behind the impulse to punish (which confuses our thinking about the purpose of punishment), explains why over time all punishment regimes impose greater levels of punishment than originally intended, and traces a disturbing gap between our ability to quantify pain and the precision with which penalties are handed down.

Ferguson turns the spotlight from the debate over legal issues to the real plight of prisoners, addressing not law professionals but the American people. Do we want our prisons to be this way? Or are we unaware, or confused, or indifferent, or misinformed about what is happening? Acknowledging the suffering of prisoners and understanding what punishers do when they punish are the first steps toward a better, more just system.

Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 9780674728684
Number of pages: 310
Weight: 689 g
Dimensions: 241 x 164 x 28 mm


MEDIA REVIEWS
Robert Ferguson s Inferno: An Anatomy of American Punishment is a book of searing moral vision. He asks how it is that we have become a nation of punishers who can no longer see the human dignity of the punished indeed, can no longer see the punished at all. Inferno penetrates the veil thrown over America s prison archipelago, insisting that we recognize the psychological, moral, and social consequences to the punished and punishers alike. How, he asks, have we allowed the growth of a punishment regime no less horrifying than that of the Soviet gulags? Ferguson is our Dante, acting as our guide through the travesty that is the American inferno. No one can come away from this book without a sense of their own complicity in the sin of our nation, yet with some hope that though the path forward is difficult, it is not yet completely closed.--Paul W. Kahn, Yale Law School"
Inferno is a passionate, anguished cry against what is sometimes lamented but more than anything is taken for granted and ignored. He enlists his readers in a serious and sustained effort to reform America's prisons and jails. I know of no book just like Ferguson's.--Lloyd Weinreb, Harvard Law School
Inferno: An Anatomy of American Punishment explores the unusual cruelty and vengefulness in our criminal justice system.--Andrew Sullivan"The Dish" (02/28/2014)
Ferguson s descriptions of prisoners suffering are compelling and thought provoking A must for those working within the criminal justice system, the law, or religion.--Frances O. Sandiford"Library Journal" (06/06/2014)"
The book s descent into the frightening depths of criminal punishment leaves us nearly despondent Ferguson s major re-envisioning of what incarceration offers us is a chance to turn our present incarcerative hell into a purgative place where hope of redemption can still survive Ferguson s book opens our eyes in the darkness and points to a possible exit. It should be required reading for judges, legislators, politicians, prison authorities and all of us who are democratically responsible for the inferno that together we have created.--Francis R. Herrmann"America" (03/09/2015)"
Robert Ferguson's Inferno: An Anatomy of American Punishment is a book of searing moral vision. He asks how it is that we have become a nation of punishers who can no longer see the human dignity of the punished--indeed, can no longer see the punished at all. Inferno penetrates the veil thrown over America's prison archipelago, insisting that we recognize the psychological, moral, and social consequences to the punished and punishers alike. How, he asks, have we allowed the growth of a punishment regime no less horrifying than that of the Soviet gulags? Ferguson is our Dante, acting as our guide through the travesty that is the American inferno. No one can come away from this book without a sense of their own complicity in the sin of our nation, yet with some hope that though the path forward is difficult, it is not yet completely closed.--Paul W. Kahn, Yale Law School
This is less a public-policy book than a deeper exploration of what it means to punish... So much of Ferguson's project is an attempt to bring readers closer to understanding what it's like to fall into the maw of the justice system--that's why he has no compunction about bringing in literature (Kafka, Dostoyevsky, and other authors) when nonfiction is too dry or imprecise to do the job. When trying to understand the unimaginable torment of sitting alone in a coffin-like cell for years, or of watching helplessly as one's execution date creeps closer and closer, sometimes fictions comes closer to capturing these horrors better than any ACLU report ever could. Inferno is a wide-ranging effort that covers many subjects. A section on Cesare Beccaria, an 18th-century thinker and reformer on justice issues, is fascinating...Ferguson's descriptions of the hell that is solitary confinement (and the arbitrary, capricious manner in which the incarcerated are subjected to it) are powerful...Inferno still stands out as an interesting, intellectually innovative take on a hellish problem.--Jesse Singal"Boston Globe" (03/28/2014)
The measurements of the American mania for incarceration are both staggering and, apparently, meaningless. With five per cent of the world's population, the U.S. has 25 per cent of its prisoners, 100,000 of them in mind- and soul-destroying solitary...The heart of this superb book is a search for the deeper reasons, for the roots of the American impulse to punish, and punish severely. Ferguson...maintains a tone that is remarkably, not accusatory or political, as he roams through Dante and Melville, Hobbes, Locke and Machiavelli looking for clues, for the punished are generally silent (or silenced)...The current, self-defeating situation--where the $80-billion-a-year U.S. prison system does nothing so well as it trains and brutalizes future violent offenders--has been a generation in the making, and will probably take as long to wind down. But that process can't even begin until Americans start talking about why they do what they do.--Brian Bethune"Maclean's" (03/21/2014)
Inferno is a passionate, wide-ranging effort to understand and challenge...our heavy reliance on imprisonment. It is an important book, especially for those (like me) who are inclined towards avoidance and tragic complacency. If Robert A. Ferguson is persuasive on nothing else, he is convincing in his claim that we should look our use of imprisonment full in the face. That means examining the psychological, philosophical, cultural, institutional, and political reasons for locking so many away. This examination can be uncomfortable indeed. Ferguson is relentless in demonstrating how our use of the language of fairness and rationality can obscure vindictiveness and arbitrariness...Ferguson brings this unblinking honesty to other aspects of the punishment system. He insists that we uncover and acknowledge the pleasure people can take in retribution. He shows how the sterile influence of legal positivism has helped to strip legal language of its moral component...His book is too balanced and thoughtful to be disregarded.--Robert F. Nagel"Weekly Standard" (04/21/2014)
Ferguson's descriptions of prisoners' suffering are compelling and thought provoking...A must for those working within the criminal justice system, the law, or religion.--Frances O. Sandiford"Library Journal" (06/06/2014)
The book's descent into the frightening depths of criminal punishment leaves us nearly despondent...Ferguson's major re--envisioning of what incarceration offers us is a chance to turn our present incarcerative hell into a purgative place where hope of redemption can still survive...Ferguson's book opens our eyes in the darkness and points to a possible exit. It should be required reading for judges, legislators, politicians, prison authorities and all of us who are democratically responsible for the inferno that together we have created.--Francis R. Herrmann"America" (03/09/2015)

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