Why does the U.S. prison population continue rising as the crime rate drops? That and other corrections issues were discussed yesterday by the authors of two new books: John Irwin, who wrote “The Warehouse Prison” (Roxbury, 2005), and Marc Mauer, author of “Race to Incarcerate” (New Press, second edition, 2006). To Irwin, the explanation is the “prison-industrial complex,” private prison operators and organizations like California’s powerful prison guard union with a financial interest in expanding correctional facilities.
Mauer said that some major reform initiatives have not come to fruition despite declining public support for the death penalty, a “significant shift” in drug policy favoring treatment, and “strong bipartisan support” for legislation pending in Congress to support prisoner re-entry projects. In his book, Mauer describes such changes as “tinkering on the edges of criminal justice and sentencing reform.” Irwin, a one time offender-turned-criminologist, lamented that prisons are “becoming filled with long-termers” who are worn down in tightly controlled institutions and “lose their ability to make it on the outside.” Mauer and Irwin spoke at the Open Society Institute in Washington, D.C.