Beyond These Walls, by Tony Platt


Summary: Dr Platt, a well-established criminologist, outlines the history and current state of incarceration in the US. He covers topics such as how women and minorities as overly-impacted by the harsh sentences, the overpopulated prisons, and the enforced deportations of documented and undocumented immigrants. He warns us that past efforts at reforming the system have actually resulted in changes for the worse. He urges that change needs to happen from the top down, rather than from the bottom up – in other words, we need to change how the people at the top think about incarceration, and not focus only on punishing the people at the bottom (i.e. cops and prison guards) for the failures of the system. He suggests that if we punished white collar crimes (especially those that affect thousands of people) with the same ferocity as crimes of the poor, then reform would happen faster – since the people who have power to do something about the problem will witness the problem first hand.

My Thoughts: I admit, at first I didn’t think I was going to like this book. It started out slow – detail-heavy, with too many statistics listed in sentence after sentence. However, I started getting more into the narrative by the second or third chapter, when Platt started including more information on each event spoken about, instead of just listing events. By the end of the book, I was quite enjoying the educational aspects of the book. This is a topic that I have read a bit on, but not extensively, so I can say that it is a good book for a lay-person trying to educate herself on the history of incarceration in the US. Platt’s views on how we got where we are today, and some of his suggestions of how to look at reform differently (i.e. from the top down and by putting more white-collar people in prison) are definitely food for thought. This is a well-researched book, with lots of important information. It’s not fast reading, but it is worthwhile.

four snowflakes

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book. Their contribution did not affect the content of my review.

4 thoughts on “Beyond These Walls, by Tony Platt

  1. This is really an important and currently relevant topic. Even folks, and I include myself, who tend to advocate for stiff sentences for violent crime, seem to acknowledge that the system is unfair and needs reform. My understanding is that many Republicans are even supporting some reforms. Maybe this consensus will lead to some change.


    1. Yes, many Republicans support reform – possibly because it is costing so much money and seems to accomplish nothing? I have no problem with stiff sentences for dangerous criminals (like violent crime), but unfortunately rape often gets less than a drug offence.


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