Cover image for Behind the razor wire : portrait of a contemporary American prison system
Behind the razor wire : portrait of a contemporary American prison system
Jacobson-Hardy, Michael, 1951-
Publication Information:
New York : New York University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xviii, 134 pages : illustrations ; 23 x 29 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HV9471 .J32 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize
HV9471 .J32 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize

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More than one million Americans live in federal and state prisons and close to another half million are in local jails. One out of every three young black men is involved in the criminal justice system. To house our ever increasing prison population, the construction of new prisons has become a growth industry in many local and state economies. Yet while prisons are a rapidly expanding feature of America's cultural and political landscape, the people in them, as well as the buildings themselves, remain hidden from public consciousness. Determined to break this silence, Michael Jacobson-Hardy entered the prison system to record the voices and the lives of the people who live and work within its walls.

Behind the Razor Wire continues the tradition of documentary photography by reporting in words and photographs on the conditions in the American prison system. Jacobson-Hardy examines the physical and psychological environments of a range of contemporary correctional institutions and the lives they contain. The foreword by Angela Y. Davis and essays by John Edgar Wideman, Marc Mauer, and James Gilligan, MD make a searing indictment of America's criminal justice system, while offering a framework for understanding the photographs in their historical and cultural context. By recording the faces, the emotions, and the lives of those who live and work in the prison system, Jacobson-Hardy heightens public awareness and promotes dialogue on criminal justice policy.

Behind the Razor Wire creates a visual portrait of prisons and prisoners, and a compelling documentary of how prisoners see themselves and of how in turn they are seen by others.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Roughly two-thirds of this book is a dramatic presentation of photographs, juxtaposed with pertinent quotations or poetry from prisoners or from astute observers of the prison world. All taken in Massachusetts during the 1990s, they offer direct, jolting encounters with the human beings who must live, work, or visit in these dehumanizing contexts. They achieve an admirable accuracy as snapshots of a world that most never see. The first third of the book provides a cogent set of messages from five authors, whose bases of authority are as varied as they are impressive. Following Angela Davis's foreword expressing her concerns as a former inmate and continuing activist, the photographer, Jacobson-Hardy, relays a mixture of site orientation, impressionistic description, interpersonal expression, and policy frustration. Three powerful essays ensue: Wideman's aims to expose the prison world using his masterful rhetoric and personal experiences; Mauer's aims to teach about the expectations and despair regarding the uses of prison; Gilligan's aims to apply the profound insights of psychiatry to the violence within and without those punitive walls. Because each one succeeds so well and because the photographs convey so much, this book will interest readers at all levels. R. Zingraff Meredith College