Professor Dreisinger Captures A World of Incarceration in New Book

dreisinger_story_2Associate Professor Baz Dreisinger is among the John Jay faculty members whose academic work goes far beyond the classroom. In addition to her post in the English department, Dreisinger is an author, critic, radio producer, documentarian and the founder and academic director of John Jay’s celebrated Prison-to-College Pipeline program, an initiative that The New York Times referred to as “the gold standard of prisoner re-entry” in a recent Sunday book review of Dreisinger’s latest work, Incarceration Nations: A Journey to Justice in Prisons Around the World.

               
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The book, which has been featured in The Times, Newsweek, Newsday and the Economic Times, among other outlets, is a critical examination of the prison systems of several different countries, and how Americans might learn to rethink our punishment-centric attitude toward criminal justice.

Dreisinger was recently interviewed on the radio program “Here & Now” on WBUR, Boston’s National Public Radio station, and she shared with the host some of her experiences visiting incarcerated individuals in nine countries including Rwanda, Thailand and Norway. “I started in Rwanda because I wanted to start any conversation about justice with the victims and not the offenders, as we tend to do in our punishment-obsessed system,” Dreisinger explained on the air. In one chapter of her book, Dreisinger writes about how survivors of the Rwandan genocide actually met with those who perpetrated the crimes, with astounding results. “I saw what can happen when healing is the focus of a justice system as opposed to punishment and revenge and anger,” she said.

What Dreisinger found in her travels was that not all criminal justice systems emphasize “doing time” as in the United States, which incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than any other country. In Norway for example, a nation at the forefront of prison reform, some prisons are “come and go,” where inmates are actually able to engage with and work in their own communities. This is an example of “restorative justice,” which emphasizes repairing the harm caused by a crime rather than punishing the individual. It is an integral component of the Prison-to-College Pipeline program.

On the opposite end of the spectrum she found Brazil, a country that modeled its federal supermax prisons after those in the United States, holding inmates in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours per day. Dreisinger described conditions in these prisons as “absolutely terrifying.”

Central to Dreisinger’s latest book is the notion that despite being a world leader in human rights, the United States fails abysmally when it comes to prisoner treatment. Nonetheless, she points out, with every failure comes an opportunity for change. Said Dreisinger, “I’m optimistic because these issues are becoming part of the public discourse, and there’s a growing realization that something is broken. I want to encourage people to rethink their assumptions about prison systems, but more broadly, I want to encourage people to radically rethink the entire paradigm of the prison as a component of justice.”

MEDIA COVERAGE

‘Incarceration Nations,’ by Baz Dreisinger
New York Times-Feb 19, 2016
Sunday Book Review

Baz Dreisinger is an unusual combination of English professor, journalist and documentary producer whose travels to nine countries to meet …

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Newsweek-Feb 17, 2016
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Excerpt from ‘Incarceration Nations’ by Baz Dreisinger
Newsday-Feb 12, 2016
Baz, I must tell you,” Pastor Boma begins. “This is indeed a beautiful poem. And indeed it speaks to our experience directly here, in this prison.

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In Pollsmoor Prison in South Africa, author Baz Dreisinger talks with a prisoner at a restorative justice workshop. (Courtesy of Baz Dreisinger)

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Dr. Baz Dreisinger goes behind bars in nine countries to investigate the current conditions in prisons worldwide. Incarceration Nations is a first-person look at the …