Beyond Prisons: A New Interfaith Paradigm for Our Failed Prison System

Beyond Prisons: A New Interfaith Paradigm for Our Failed Prison System

This strong indictment of the current prison system, undertaken by two respected experts on behalf of the American Friends Service Committee, traces the history and features of our penal system, offers strong ethical and moral assessments of it, and lays out a whole new paradigm of criminal justice based on restorative justice and reconciliation. The book puts forward a 12-point plan for immediate changes.

Beyond Prisons opens a long-needed national dialogue on our responsibilities as citizens and as a nation to provide remediation rather than mere retributive incarceration, answerable to the common good and the justice of God.

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  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9780800638320
  • Age/Grade Range Adult
  • Dimensions 5.5 x 8.5
  • Pages 216
  • Publication Date April 21, 2006


"A very thought-provoking book. This book challenges us by advocating the abolishment of our current penal system. Laura Magnani, Jamie Bissonette, and Harmon Wray have done an outstanding job researching and stating the inherent problems within our criminal justice system. Beyond Prisons describes the evils of imprisonment and want to exorcise this so called 'criminal justice system' from our society. What they ask for is a new justice paradigm which will not discriminate or be prejudicial to racial minorities and will not be retributive. Restorative justice, peace building and reconciliation are described as hallmarks of this new justice system.

Moving an entire government and society as suggested in Beyond Prisons and the American Friends Service Committee may appear as a foolish dream to some. To others, many religious people and other people of goodwill who are disgusted with the costs, inefficiencies and apparent immorality of our current 'retributive' justice system; the dream of a new system which will be morally 'right and good' cannot be ignored.

The Rev. Martin Luther King once proclaimed, 'I have a dream...'"

— Paul E. Rogers, President, American Correctional Chaplains Association

"Not just another book on criminal justice systems. Beyond Prisons is a jewel, working like a finely crafted prism to illumine many features of a new paradigm for justice needed in the USA today. Scholars and teachers will value its critical yet concise introduction to enduring debates in criminal justice. Informed activists will prop this book up alongside their phones and photocopying machines for ready reference to the key issues at stake."

— Mark Lewis Taylor, Professor of Theology and Culture, Princeton Theological Seminary and author of The Executed God: The Way of the Cross in Lockdown America

"This book is the fruit of years of organizing, advocacy and reflection concerning our deeply broken criminal justice system. Magnani and Wray offer a truly radical analysis that penetrates to the roots of the crisis, challenges long-held assumptions, and imagines thoughtful alternatives. It is the finest critique of the prison-industrial complex available."

— Ched Myers, writer, theological educator and social justice organizer with Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries in southern California.

Study Guide

Study Guide;   Microsoft Word File

Table of Contents

Introduction: A new Morality
Confession and Healing Justice
Definitions: More than Mere Words
Outline of the Book
  1. History of a Failed System

  2. The Philadelphia Experiment
    The Penitentiary System—Religious Roots
    The Penitentiary System—Philosophical Roots
    The Panopticon
    The Development of the Penitentiary System

  3. The dynamics of Crime And Punishment in America

  4. The Problem
    The Intersection of Race and Class
    Practicing White Supremacy
    The Legacy of Economic Dominance: Class

  5. In our Backyards: The Penal System at the Local level

  6. Policing
    In the Courthouse: The U.S. Adversarial Legal System
    The Pre-trial Process
    County Jails
    Probation and Community Corrections
    Taking Local Communities Seriously

  7. Sentencing: The Cold Heart of tHe Penal System

  8. The California Example
    Federal Sentencing Policy
    Carrying Out the Drug War
    Three Strikes
    The Death Penalty
    Throwing Away the Key: Life without Mercy
    Parole: The Terminating Program in the Rehabilitative Model
    Extra Punishment for Sex Offenders
    Criminal Records: The Permanent Punishment

  9. Cages: State and Federal Prisons Today

  10. The Corporatization of Punishment
    Private Prisons and Accountability
    Prison Guards
    The Super-max and Other Forms of Torture
    Manufacturing Madness
    Prison Gang Policies: A Threat to Our Security
    Political Prisoners
    Immigrants in the Criminal Justice System
    Sexual Relations and Prison Rape
    Transgender Prisoners
    Prison and Disability
    The Mentally Ill
    Health Care
    Spanning Generations: Impact of Prisons on Families
    Prison Ministry

  11. Youth, Poverty, and Delinquency

  12. History of the Juvenile Justice System
    The Language of Demonization
    Criminalization of Youth
    Creating Gangs
    Zero Tolerance

  13. An Alternative Vision of Justice

  14. Survivors
    Breaking the Cycle

  15. Searching for a new Justice Paradigm

  16. Can Prisons Rehabilitate?
    From Prison Abolition to a New Paradigm
    Reform vs. Abolition
    Restorative/Peace-building Justice
    Problems with Restorative Justice
    Examples of Peace-building Justice
    AFSC's Twelve-point Plan