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British Journal of Criminology

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Appealing to Justice: Prisoner Grievances,
Rights and Carceral Logic. By Kitty Calavita and
Valerie Jenness (University of California Press,
2015, 247pp. $34.95)
A PPEALING TO JUSTICE: P RISONER G RIEVANCES, R IGHTS AND C ARCERAL LOGIC. B Y Kitty Calavita
and Valerie Jenness (University of California Press, 2015, 247pp. $34.95)

10.1093/bjc/azw018

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Br J Criminol (2016)
doi: 10.1093/bjc/azw018
First published online: February
18, 2016

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Lisa Kerr
Queen’s University

Among the many puzzles raised by current levels and styles of US
incarceration is the fact that the prison system gained its enormous size
over the same time period in which civil rights expanded in American
law. Scholars have explained this puzzle by tracing how opponents of
civil rights galvanized a powerful counterattack by shifting focus to
matters of crime and punishment. When the civil rights
countermovement combined in the early 1970s with rising crime rates,
the stage was set for an incarceration surge. Under this view,
liberalizing civil rights and more repressive forms of social control are
not ‘independent trajectories’ but, rather, ‘part of the same political
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stream’ (Weaver 2007: 231). Such large-scale explanatory theories
focus on how events in the non-prison context converged to create the
current scale of the prison system. Until Appealing to Justice, no
account had so masterfully traced the unfolding of this discordant pair
—rights consciousness and punitive severity—inside the prison itself.
Leading law and society scholars Kitty Calavita and Valerie Jenness
have conducted a study of the California prisoner grievance system.
First implemented in California in 1973 at the height of the prisoners’
rights movement, grievance systems are mechanisms internal to the
prison designed to receive and address prisoner complaints about all
aspects of prison life. The authors were given unprecedented access to
both prisoners and California Department of Corrections and
Rehabilitation (CDCR) officials, along with hundreds of written prisoner
grievances and decisions rendered by prison officials in 2005–06 at four
levels of review. Calavita and Jenness use the grievances partly to
conduct a form of prison ethnography. The written claims disclose a
rich portrait of prison food, medical care, staff conduct, physical safety,
cell assignments, disciplinary action, visitation procedures, and—a topic
vital to prisoners, which outsiders often fail to grasp—the ‘chaos …

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