Shackled and Chained: Mass Incarceration in Capitalist America by Eugene Puryear

Mon, Aug 26, 2013

Human Rights

Shackled and Chained: Mass Incarceration in Capitalist America by Eugene Puryear

Reform of America’s criminal justice system is a major talking point on the left. This is for a good reason: public confidence in the criminal justice system, pollsters say, has been on the decline for decades. Differences in how police, courts and the system are looked at have been most significant when looking at black versus white attitudes. Changing drug laws, improving police training, improving conditions in jails and holding those who violate the public trust accountable is seen as the panacea for what ails flagging trust in authority.

If you have read The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander’s famous book of the broken court and jail system, much of Eugene Puryear’s Shackled and Chained: Mass Incarceration in Capitalist America won’t be a surprise. Puryear himself cites Alexander on several instances, in fact. Puryear, a nationally recognized socialist activist and political organizer, comes from a hardline anti-capitalist tradition, but he shares extensive research to support his claims about the criminal justice system. Many writers before him have detailed the same alarming issues.

Antiquated drug war laws, racist police officers and anti-immigrant bills are but features, Puryear declares, of a classist and racist political system which depends on oppression for profit. Although you can be sure a God-Bless-America loyalist like Mike Huckabee would be frothing over such intimations, Puryear’s conclusion is nonetheless refreshing and important as far as leftist critiques of the criminal justice system go. His audacious viewpoints also go beyond the typical reform message. Progressive Democrats remain wedded to capitalism and the prison-industrial complex’s lobbying wing. Streamlining laws may lessen tensions, but do not take away the pain. Getting to a real solution then seems like a long journey. Closing Shackled and Chained leaves you chastened. However, the book leaves you with a clear perspective on what needs to be done.

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