Are Prisons Obsolete and Golden Gulag Comparison

Similarities and Differences Between Are Prisons Obsolete and Golden Gulag

Are Prisons Obsolete? Book by Angela Davis and Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California book by Ruth Wilson Gilmore are similar in so many ways. The main point of similarity is witnessed in the two writers’ views about policing and prisons. However, there are also important differences between these two books that cannot be ignored. The differences arise in terms of the approach, level of style and writing techniques, and also in terms of the arguments made by each writer. This essay seeks to describe the areas of similarities between the two books. It also seeks to describe differences between the two books and how the differences affect their language, their tone, their approaches to writing, the way they tell their stories, the audiences they choose to address, and the arguments that they make.

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The writers of the two books advocate for the abolition of the prison. Professor Davis feels that prisons are no longer useful and it is high time that the prisons are eradicated. She acknowledges that people cannot imagine living without the existence of prison systems because over time prisons have become a permanent part of people’s lives (Davis, 2003).however she champions the prisons abolishment movement to create awareness that prisons are indeed obsolete and should be eradicated. Ruth Gilmore also feels somehow the same about the prison system because she believes the prisons are no longer serving their purpose. She believes prisons have led to increased cases of racial discrimination, gender bias, and other discriminatory bases (Gilmore, 2007).

Also, they bring out the horrible conditions people go through at the hands of the police. Policing is one of the major issues that police officers subject people to. They use violence to get what they want from the prisoners. Violation of the prisoners’ rights is recorded in both books as a common challenge that prisoners face while in prison. The police officers subject the prisoners to forced labor without pay without their consent. What is more shocking is that the police receive the payment for the labor offered by the prisoners without giving a single coin to the actual laborers. Women are also molested and taken advantage of while in prisons.

Mass incarceration is a common point of argument between the two writers. Both books record an increase of prisoners being incarnated without major debates. Ruth Gilmore records that since 1980, the number of people in U.S. prisons has increased more than 450%. This is a clear indication that the prison systems are working tirelessly to ensure the prions spaces are filled up. For example, after the largest prison building in California, the Californian prison system had to make sure the bed spaces in the prisons were filled up (Gilmore, 2007). Angela Davis also argues about how the increase in the number of prisoners was so rapid in a short period. She also admits the blacks and Latinos are arrested, charged, and incarnated in large numbers than the whites. This is evidence of racial discrimination and perhaps an indication that mass incarceration is a gain to the prison system

These two authors share a similarity in their view of the opposition of the use of prions reforms to reinstate the situations in the prisons. They both believe that reforms have been used for a very long time but the situation is evolving from worse to worst. Reforms are more like rules which are broken by the police officers daily because they believe they are above the law. Therefore, they strongly oppose the use of the police reforms and advocate for the use of other alternatives to provide justice. Professor Davis advises that the government should use the available funds to improve the quality of education and provide basic needs to the society members rather than using those funds to develop the prisons (Davis, 2003). Ruth Gilmore also expresses the feeling of surprise as to why the California government would use lots of funds to erect such a massive building prison instead of investing those funds in improving the lives of the citizens (Gilmore, 2007). They both believe that with better living conditions in society, the crime rates will reduce.

Both Ruth Gilmore and Professor Davis incorporate a lot of quotes to build their argument. For example, Angela quotes For example, women have been incarcerated in psychiatric institutions in greater proportions than in prisons. Studies indicating that women have been even more likely to end up in mental facilities than men suggest that while jails and prisons have been dominant institutions for the control of men… This quote was used to attribute to the fact that women are vulnerable to physical abuse and discrimination in the society. The government has somehow neglected the women and left them to cater for their needs making them insane. Ruth Gilmore uses quotes such as How and why, then, did California go about the biggest prison-building project in the history of the world? In my view, prisons are partial geographical solutions to political economic crises, organized by the state, which is itself in crisis… to bring out her anguish concerning the massive prion project in California.

However, there are also differences observed between the two books. First, the central point of argument of the two authors differs greatly. In Golden Gulag, Gilmore records that California has the biggest prison building project in the history of the world although the crime rate had been falling steadily over the past decades. She expresses her disbelief over massive California’s expanding prison population. Ruth Wilson Gilmore in her book ‘Golden Gulag’ explains how political and economic forces, ranging from global to local, conjoined to produce the prison boom. Therefore she argues that a weak labor system, shifting patterns of capital investment and radical struggles defeat have facilitated rapid prison growth. This resulted in an empty, huge, and expensive prison system and a huge number of incarcerated young people particularly based on color (Gilmore, 2007). On the other hand, Angela’s point of argument is directed at how social movements have changed the political, cultural, economic, and social institutions. She goes further by illustrating her central point of argument to be the ending times of prison systems. She discusses the history of incarceration and how it has evolved in modern times. She also discusses various alternatives to replace prisons (Davis, 2007).

Professor Davis’s tone differs completely from Gilmore’s tone. From Davis argument, a great level of assertiveness in her tone is revealed. She is very much stern and affirms in her argument. As for Gilmore, her approach reveals an aspect of fragile tone probably because she was tensed about her argument.

Gilmore bases her argument on the real situation at hand and real experiences from people within the society. She captures the development of the great Californian prison building and also records various movements in her book to build her arguments. She captures the formation of the Mothers Reclaiming Our Children (Mothers ROC) movement to reveal that the prison systems were targeting the children as well and thereby there was an increased number of children in the prison systems. Therefore, Barbara Meredith founded the movement to intervene in that crisis (Gilmore, 2007). These events make it much easier for the readers to understand the turning up of events in her book.

These two authors differ in the way conclude their respective arguments. They differ in their approach towards making a conclusion. Professor Davis nullifies the essence of prisons and champions the need to employee other alternatives to administer justice. Ruth on the other hand, gives a practical finality on the need to embrace everyone in the society despite status, gender type, race or ethnicity for the sake of peace and harmony in the world we live in.

The main target audience in ‘Are Prisons Obsolete’ is the anti-prisons activists. Professor Davis uses her argument to target anti-prison activists to help her fight the existence of the prisons. Being an anti-prison activist, she feels people can do without necessarily having prisons therefore she champions the anti-prison movement to achieve her goal. She engages all her efforts to recruit more anti-prison activists into her team (Davis, 2003). On the other hand, Ruth Gilmore targets every individual with the society and globally. She targets the government, prison system officials, prisoners, and the members of the society in their argument. Therefore she engages everyone within the state, rural areas, and urban areas. She attributes two major different viewpoints between people from the rural and those from the city. She records that the city people assumed that the rural people were in support of prisons and could not imagine living without prisons while the rural people assumed that the city people were not doing anything to intervene concerning the increase in the number of prisoners within the prisons (Gilmore, 2007).

If Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Angela Yvonne Davis were brought into some form of a dialogue to express their primary arguments in their respective book, I would raise some concerns to the both of them. As for Professor Davis, I would acknowledge to her that she was quite resourceful in building her argument however there were so many contradictions that cropped up through her work. As for Ruth Gilmore, I would comment on her extensive use of historical information which was factual and highly reliable. However, she lacked some sense of assertiveness in her tone thereby portraying her as fragile.

In conclusion, both of these writers are great writers and they have used several convincing pieces of evidence that portray their work as factual and less biased. However, both of them have distinct strengths and weaknesses that they should have worked on to improve the quality of their books.
















Davis, A. Y. (2003). Are prisons obsolete? Seven Stories Press.

Gilmore, R. W. (2007). Golden gulag: Prisons, surplus, crisis, and opposition in globalizing California. University of California Press.


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