Since 1980, the number of people in U.S. prisons has increased more than 450%. Despite a crime rate that has been falling steadily for decades, California has led the way in this explosion, with what a state analyst called “the biggest prison building project in the history of the world.” Golden Gulag provides the first detailed explanation for that buildup by looking at how political and economic forces, ranging from global to local, conjoined to produce the prison boom.
In an informed and impassioned account, Ruth Wilson Gilmore examines this issue through statewide, rural, and urban perspectives to explain how the expansion developed from surpluses of finance capital, labor, land, and state capacity. Detailing crises that hit California’s economy with particular ferocity, she argues that defeats of radical struggles, weakening of labor, and shifting patterns of capital investment have been key conditions for prison growth. The results—a vast and expensive prison system, a huge number of incarcerated young people of color, and the increase in punitive justice such as the “three strikes” law—pose profound and troubling questions for the future of California, the United States, and the world. Golden Gulag provides a rich context for this complex dilemma, and at the same time challenges many cherished assumptions about who benefits and who suffers from the state’s commitment to prison expansion.
Preface and Acknowledgments
List of Abbreviations
Prologue: The Bus
2. The California Political Economy
3. The Prison Fix
4. Crime, Croplands, and Capitalism
5. Mothers Reclaiming Our Children
6. What Is to Be Done?
Epilogue: Another Bus
Ruth Wilson Gilmore is Associate Professor of Geography and Director of the Program in American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. She is a member of the founding collective of Critical Resistance, one of the most important national anti-prison organizations in the United States.
“In this sophisticated, interdisciplinary study, brimming with new ideas, political savvy and moral urgency, Gilmore takes us on a demanding intellectual exploration of California's economic, political, spatial and cultural history.”—Tony Platt San Francisco Chronicle
“Contributes new ideas to the debate over how America has managed to reach the current levels of mass incarceration. Rooted in her home discipline of geography, Gilmore directs the criminological gaze away from the workings of the institution itself, to its situation within a particular, historical, political and geographical moment. In so doing, she forces the criminological reader to engage with complicated empirical and conceptual issues that sometimes are relegated to the edges of our analysis.”—Mary Bosworth British Journal Of Criminology
“Golden Gulag is a valuable addition to the growing literature on America's redesign as a prison-heavy nation. The data is fascinating, the analysis compelling and deeply disturbing. It deserves, and hopefully will get, a wide readership.”—Sasha Abramsky The American Prospect
“A magnificent analysis of the political economy of superincarceration and the slave plantations that California calls prisons.”—Mike Davis, author of Ecology of Fear
is a deeply necessary book for our times. Gilmore digs beneath the easy answers to the more troubling causes of a political consensus that prisons are the only solution to all urban and rural ills."—Nayan Shah, author of Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco's Chinatown
"Ruth Gilmore lays bare the diabolical logic of neoliberal incarceration. She shows us that the prison is a symptom of the decline of our civilization, how the California Nightmare has produced its disposable population. Gilmore's depressingly hopeful analysis is a wake-up call for our somnolence."—Vijay Prashad, author of Keeping Up with the Dow Joneses: Debt, Prison, Workfare
Lora Romero First Book Publication Prize, American Studies Association