Maximum Security


This week’s book review is of Maximum Security (ISBN 978-1-84193-755-7, Arcturus Publishing 2009) by Karen Farrington and has the subtitle Inside stories from the world’s toughest prisons.

It begins with the history of incarceration, and why many miscreants found themselves behind bars.  Not only that, but the punishments that were meted out for those who had crossed some societal boundary are mentioned.  For example, flogging with the cat-o-nine-tails was followed by the “guilty” party’s back being scrubbed with salt water, ostensibly to stop infection.

Description of the jails of the early days brings to light the horrendous conditions that convicts were kept under.  Disease was rife, so much so that occasionally an entire courtroom, including the presiding judge, died within days after exposure to the infected (and infective) criminal.

From there, the book launches into descriptions of the penal conditions of today, which if you believe the book, can be quite dreadful.  Overcrowding appears to be endemic as more and more criminals are sentenced to spend time in jail, and there are not enough jails to deal with the influx.  The answer, all over the world, appears to be to cram more bodies into the small cells, rather than look at alternative punishments.

Mention is made of various penal concepts, all of which appear to be abandoned after a few years, but a certain American sheriff marshal get his moments of fame (infamy?) for re-instituting the chain gangs, even for women.  It is almost unthinkable, that we are still chaining human beings together and sending them out in that condition to dig ditches.  We have not progressed very far.

However, there were even more horrifying details presented to the reader.  This is the gangs that form in the jails, ostensibly to look after the members, but in actual fact are merely an outlet for aggression, and all tied up in the drug trade.  For those of us who have not been “inside” it is almost inexplicable as to how drug barons can operate from within a prison.  It requires ineffective weak management, corrupt wardens and politicians who turn a blind eye to the situation.  A damning expose of today’s societies.  Despite our trappings of ‘democracy’ and ‘charity’ homo sapiens is still an animal.  So what can be done about the situation?  Author Farrington does not know, neither do the politicians, and quite frankly, neither do I.

The book covers riots, rapes and escapes, but many of the escapes are suicides of younger convicts who are unable to repel the bullying from the gang members.

The final “escape” is the death penalty and the various methods are described, from hanging to stoning, and the last meals for some convicts are recorded.

This is an authoritative tome but the publisher has decided to give the book a “tabloid” appearance with large typeface headings and illustrations on the page.  A marketing decision no doubt, but the details revealed in the book deserve a more academic approach, in my opinion.

Despite my complaints, it was still a very interesting (and horrifying) book, and at B. 430 not an expensive, yet informative read.