Punishing the Vulnerable

Discrimination in American Prisons

by Jeremiah Wade-Olson


Racial minorities are punished more severely and given fewer rehabilitative services in American prisons than are white inmates.

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May 2019


Pages 167
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Current Events and Issues/Law and Crime
  Current Events and Issues/Society

Few studies look at the treatment of those inside America's prisons. Discussing race discrimination alongside gender, ethnic, and religious discrimination in contemporary American prisons, this book finds that correctional staff are swayed by stereotypes in their treatment of inmates.

The American Dream is that anyone who works hard enough can be successful. It is a dream premised on equal opportunity; however, millions of racial, ethnic, religious, and gender minorities have found their opportunities for success limited—even in prison. What accounts for the discriminatory treatment of people who are already imprisoned? Relying on national data and interviews conducted by the author, this book argues that American prisons are not a tool for justice but a tool for the persecution of the weak by the powerful.

The book details how African American, American Indian, and Hispanic inmates receive harsher punishments, including solitary confinement, and fewer rehabilitative programs, such as substance abuse treatment and mental health counseling. It also examines other injustices, including how female inmates suffer from a lack of rehabilitative services, Muslim inmates are placed in solitary confinement for practicing their religious beliefs, American Indians are disproportionately punished, and undocumented immigrants are forced from prison to prison in the middle of the night.


  • Provides a comprehensive account of the experiences of marginalized groups in American prisons
  • Considers discrimination inside prison walls rather than discrimination affecting which people are put into prison
  • Covers up-to-date topics such as solitary confinement, substance abuse treatment, and mental health counseling
  • Provides a timely look inside American prisons through recent interviews and unique survey data
Author Info

Jeremiah Wade-Olson is assistant professor at the University of Michigan, Flint. He has a PhD in political science from the University of Kentucky. His work focuses on race and incarceration and has been published in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory and in Administration and Society.

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The School-to-Prison Pipeline cover imageFinding Freedom in Confinement cover image

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