Sasha Abramsky

Sasha Abramsky is a Sacramento-based freelance journalist and senior fellow at Demos. He is the author of five books, including Breadline USA and Inside Obama's Brain.

Recent Articles

A Worthy Diversion

Pennsylvania has developed a model program to keep offenders with mental illness out of the criminal-justice system.

One night last winter, Sally Judson was arrested for prostitution and disorderly conduct. She was also charged with resisting arrest and possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia. Judson, who has schizophrenia as well as a heroin addiction, is one of hundreds of thousands of Americans clogging the criminal-justice system for drug offenses. Many, like Judson, are also mentally ill, and the system often fails to treat the mental illness and instead ends up just submerging it in the criminal behavior. But Judson (not her real name) was fortunate to be arrested in Pittsburgh, one of several U.S. cities pioneering a new and promising approach to treating mentally ill offenders that uses a diversion strategy supervised by newly created mental-health courts. After being arrested and placed in the intake area of the jail, Judson was identified as mentally ill by staff of the Allegheny County Office of Behavioral Health, according to the office's Amy Kroll. Two hours later, Judson went for...

Reforming a Prison Nation

Two students of mass incarceration in America discuss the current political moment and the prospects for rolling back the carceral state.

Sasha Abramsky is the author of American Furies: Crime, Punishment, and Vengeance in the Age of Mass Imprisonment and a senior fellow at Demos. Marie Gottschalk is the author of The Prison and the Gallows: The Politics of Mass Incarceration in America and associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. In the e-mail exchange below, they discuss the current political climate surrounding issues of crime and imprisonment and the prospects for changing American criminal justice policies. --- ABRAMSKY: Marie, one of the common themes in both of our books is the notion that the past always haunts the present. Political, racial, and economic divisions from bygone eras influence contemporary social attitudes toward crime and punishment and affect which individuals and groups are most likely to fall under the control of one or another criminal justice agency. Institutional legacies also matter. Today's experiment with wholesale incarceration in the...

Fear and Loathing in Middle America

A new book in the Gonzo journalism vein tries to explain to coastal elites what they've never understood about the working-class small towns in the middle of the country.

Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War by Joe Bageant (Crown, 288 pages) - - - Every so often, you pick up a book and two pages in your nose is glued to it. Not necessarily because of the subject matter per se -- though good subject matter certainly helps -- but because the prose is so damned electric. Usually, I've found, when it comes to reportage like this, the book's author has a single name: Hunter S. Thompson. Recently, though, I've added another name to my stuck-nose lexicon, having been utterly ensnared by Joe Bageant's Deer Hunting With Jesus . Bageant grew up in a fundamentalist Christian, ultra-working-class family in a claustrophobic little Virginia town named Winchester. Then, in his own terminology, he made his escape. He moved west and made a pretty decent career for himself in the world of journalism. A few years ago, though, he felt a craving for his childhood home and, now deep into middle-age, decided to relocate once more. So the self-...

The Democracy of Evil

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip Zimbardo (Random House, 576 pages) Philip Zimbardo's The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil is a promise a long time coming. In 1971, when Zimbardo was a young psychology professor at Stanford University, he presided over a psychology experiment exploring what happened when normal students were immersed in two distinct roles: One group of students were to be prison guards -- in a makeshift prison set up in the basement of the psychology lab -- and the other group were to be prisoners. The experiment, peopled by well-adjusted, paid volunteers, was to last for two weeks. Within days, however, told they had to control the prison and provided with virtually no oversight by Zimbardo (in his role as prison superintendant), the bulk of the guards had begun engaging in startlingly sadistic, humiliation-based behavior -- dragging prisoners around naked and with bags over their heads, forcing them to do...

The Democracy of Evil

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip Zimbardo (Random House, 576 pages) Philip Zimbardo's The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil is a promise a long time coming. In 1971, when Zimbardo was a young psychology professor at Stanford University, he presided over a psychology experiment exploring what happened when normal students were immersed in two distinct roles: One group were to be prison guards -- in a makeshift prison set up in the basement of the psychology lab -- and the other group were to be prisoners. The experiment, peopled by well-adjusted, paid volunteers, was to last for two weeks. Within days, however, told they had to control the prison and provided with virtually no oversight by Zimbardo (in his role as warden), the bulk of the guards had begun engaging in startlingly sadistic, humiliation-based behavior -- dragging prisoners around naked and with bags over their heads, forcing them to do press ups while others sat...

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