Prisons in the United States
A Reference Handbook
by Cyndi Banks
March 2017, 309pp, 6x9
1 volume, ABC-CLIO

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-4437-9
$66, £49, 57€, A90
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-4438-6
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

What has caused the United States to have the largest incarcerated population worldwide and the highest rate of incarceration?

Offering perspectives from a range of experts, both academic and nonacademic, this reference book examines the development of prisons in the United States and addresses the principal contemporary issues and controversies of our prisons and prison systems.

Prisons were initially created as a means of reforming offenders, but over time, the objective of rehabilitation gave way to a strategy of mass imprisonment—a system that has resulted in correctional facilities dealing with serious problems such as overcrowding, prison gangs, pervasive violence, and a significant incidence of mental illness among inmates. Prisons in the United States: A Reference Handbook examines the history of corrections in America, detailing how well-intentioned policies intended to “get tough on crime” sanctioned the dismantling of parole systems and resulted in laws that imposed mandatory minimum sentences. These changes contributed to the United States now having the biggest incarcerated population worldwide and the highest rate of incarceration.

The book offers an accessible history of the development of the prison system in the United States and analyzes the various problems and controversies associated with prisons in the present day. The coverage includes key related issues, including those of race and gender, and enables readers to understand how past developments continue to affect public and official perceptions of the prison experience—for example, how the practice of keeping inmates in solitary confinement for lengthy periods has been reinvented and represents a return to a historically discredited practice. Accounts of former inmates and of correctional officers are integrated into the text, adding context and offering rarely heard perspectives on difficult issues affecting prisons.


  • Presents a comprehensive yet succinct history of the development of men's and women's prisons in the United States
  • Offers a range of author perspectives that identify and explore the principal issues associated with prisons and imprisonment
  • Documents the shift from an intent to reform inmates in prisons to retribution and an attempt to remove all criminals from society, using prisons for "warehousing" of undesired elements
  • Provides a complete reference guide for the understanding of prisons and imprisonment as a punishment
Cyndi Banks is associate vice president at Capilano University in Canada and emeritus professor of criminology and criminal justice, Northern Arizona University. She has more than 25 years experience of research and project implementation in developing countries and is internationally recognized for her work as a criminologist in the Asia/Pacific region, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Iraq, Sudan, East Timor, and Iraqi Kurdistan in international children's rights, juvenile justice reform, and rule of law policy. She has published widely on topics such as juvenile justice, comparative and cultural criminology, international children's rights, imprisonment, indigenous incarceration, and criminal justice ethics. She has authored ten books, including Youth, Crime and Justice; Alaska Native Juveniles in Detention: A Qualitative Study of Treatment and Resistance ; Developing Cultural Criminology: Theory and Practice in Papua New Guinea; Comparative, International, and Global Justice: Perspectives from Criminology and Criminal Justice; and Criminal Justice Ethics, Edition Four.


"Provides clear, authoritative background on the past and present on the topic . . . chronology, glossary, organizations and comprehensive index further enhance the value for students and researchers."—Booklist Online, May 19, 2017

"This text makes a wonderful resource for shortening student research time."—School Library Connection, November 1, 2017

"This volume provides a solid overview of the history and background of U.S. prisons. . . . Although intended as a reference source, this volume is a good introduction for undergraduates and could just as easily belong in a circulating collection. Summing Up: Highly recommended. High school through undergraduate students; professionals/practitioners; general readers."—Choice, September 1, 2017

Contemporary World Issues

This award-winning series offers comprehensive, one-volume reference handbooks on important topics related to health, education, the environment, and social and ethical issues.

24-hour cable news. Millions of internet sites. Information overload. How can we sort through the information? Assess the analyses? Trust the sources?

A world of questions demands a library of answers. Contemporary World Issues covers the controversial topics that students, readers, and citizens want to read about, write about, and know more about.


Subject coverage spans six main categories:

  • Criminal Justice
  • Environment
  • Gender and Ethnicity
  • Politics, Law, and Government
  • Science, Technology, and Medicine
  • Society
Each volume offers a rich array of resources:
  • A background and history essay that provides essential context and grounding for further study
  • A balanced summary of ongoing controversies and proposed solutions that show numerous paths for further research on pressing, contemporary questions
  • A forum of authoritative perspective essays by experts, offering a broad spectrum of arguments on the issues
  • Carefully selected annotated documents, tables, and graphs that support statistical literacy and investigation of primary sources
  • A chronology of events, legislation, and movements that place events in sequence and draw connections between them
  • Annotated lists of print, web, and multimedia resources that power the next steps for in-depth research
  • Profiles of key players and organizations
  • A glossary of key terms
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