The Cost of Prisons

The remarkable thing about Renny Golden’s writing is that it provides a bridge of understanding between a silenced, disenfranchised community and those who need to hear what that community is trying to say. Via her books, Golden, a professor of criminal justice, sociology, and social work at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, has constructed these bridges by deftly balancing social analysis with her deep concern for the voices of the analyzed. Whether writing about the sanctuary movement, the war in El Salvador, or the child welfare system, her compassionate listening seems to encourage tired or beaten lives back into vitality. Golden’s new book, War on the Family: Mothers in Prison and the Families They Leave Behind, continues this theme. She doesn’t approach her work with an academic agenda, she writes in the introduction, but as “an act, however fraught with risk, of solidarity.”

War on the Family is a searing indictment of the booming prison industry and the hell it has unleashed on the victims of its “success”—primarily African Americans, Latinos, and Arabs. “We can’t build prisons fast enough to hold this world’s cargo of dark-skinned prisoners,” Golden writes. “The U.S. incarceration rate rose almost 300 percent between 1980 and 1998, eclipsing both South Africa and Russia’s all-time international imprisonment record.”

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Sojourners Magazine February 2006
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