The Atlantic

'Human Frailty' Is a Byproduct of Mass Incarceration

In his new book Homeward, Harvard University professor Bruce Western explores what it’s like to reenter society after prison—and uncovers an epidemic of illness and mortality.
Source: Ted S. Warren / AP

Prison is not a healthy place. It’s pretty well established that many who wind up there aren’t in great health to begin with, and their sentences can exacerbate underlying issues. Solitary confinement destroys already fragile minds. Incarceration robs men and women of their youth, regurgitating aged shadows back into the streets. Beatings and abuse at the hands of officers lead to injury and even death, and violence between inmates is seen as common enough to pass as normal.

But the underlying reasons for the vulnerabilities of the incarcerated are poorly addressed by policymakers, and there is little understanding of what that vulnerability means en masse, in the society that incarcerates more people than any other.

Harvard University researcher Bruce Western’s new book, , could add significantly to that understanding, illuminating the role prisons play for the poor andis a gripping study of the totality of the lives of people reentering society, it also uncovers the role of the carceral system in breaking bodies and minds.

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