Behind the Razor Wire: Portrait of a Contemporary American Prison System

Front Cover
NYU Press, 1999 - Photography - 134 pages

More than one million Americans live in federal and state prisons and close to another half million are in local jails. One out of every three young black men is involved in the criminal justice system. To house our ever increasing prison population, the construction of new prisons has become a growth industry in many local and state economies. Yet while prisons are a rapidly expanding feature of America's cultural and political landscape, the people in them, as well as the buildings themselves, remain hidden from public consciousness. Determined to break this silence, Michael Jacobson-Hardy entered the prison system to record the voices and the lives of the people who live and work within its walls.

Behind the Razor Wire continues the tradition of documentary photography by reporting in words and photographs on the conditions in the American prison system. Jacobson-Hardy examines the physical and psychological environments of a range of contemporary correctional institutions and the lives they contain. The foreword by Angela Y. Davis and essays by John Edgar Wideman, Marc Mauer, and James Gilligan, MD make a searing indictment of America's criminal justice system, while offering a framework for understanding the photographs in their historical and cultural context. By recording the faces, the emotions, and the lives of those who live and work in the prison system, Jacobson-Hardy heightens public awareness and promotes dialogue on criminal justice policy.

Behind the Razor Wire creates a visual portrait of prisons and prisoners, and a compelling documentary of how prisoners see themselves and of how in turn they are seen by others.

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About the author (1999)

Michael Jacobson-Hardy is the author of The Changing Landscape of Labor: American Workers and Workplaces. His photographs have been exhibited widely and are included in many public and private collections, including the Smithsonian Institution, the Henry Ford Museum, the Yale University Art Gallery, and the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University.

Writer John Edgar Wideman was born in Washington, D. C., on June 14, 1941. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, studied at Oxford University, and was the second African American to become a Rhodes Scholar. He taught at the University of Pennsylvania and eventually founded and chaired the African American studies department. He also taught at the University of Wyoming and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Wideman is the author of more than a dozen books. Sent for You Yesterday won a PEN/Faulkner Award in 1984, and Philadelphia Fire received one a decade later. Fatheralong was a finalist for the National Book Award (1994) and Brothers and Keepers was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award (1995).

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