America's Jails

The Search for Human Dignity in an Age of Mass Incarceration

256 pages

June, 2018

ISBN: 9781479814824



Add to Cart Available: 5/4/2018

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Derek. S. Jeffreys is Professor of Humanistic Studies and Religion at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. His work focuses on ethics and violence, and he has written books on Pope John Paul II, ethics and solitary confinement and ethics and torture.

All books by Derek Jeffreys

A look at the contemporary crisis in U.S. jails with recommendations for improving and protecting the dignity of inmates 

Twelve million Americans go through the U.S. jail system on an annual basis. Jails, which differ significantly from prisons, are designed to house inmates for short amounts of time, and are often occupied by large populations of legally innocent people waiting for a trial. Jails often have deplorable sanitary conditions, and there are countless records of inmates being brutalized by staff and other inmates while in custody. Local municipalities use jails to institutionalize those whom they perceive to be a threat, so hundreds of thousands of inmates suffer from mental illness. People abandoned by families or lacking health insurance, or those who cannot afford bail, often cycle in and out of jails.  

In America’s Jails, Derek Jeffreys draws on sociology, philosophy, history, and his personal experience volunteering in jails and prisons to provide an understanding of the jail experience from the inmates’ perspective, focusing on the stigma that surrounds incarceration. Using his research at Cook County Jail, the nation’s largest single-site jail, Jeffreys attests that jail inmates possess an inherent dignity that should govern how we treat them. Ultimately, fundamental changes in the U.S. jail system are necessary and America’s Jails provides specific policy recommendations for changing its poor conditions.  

Highlighting the experiences of inmates themselves, America’s Jails aims to shift public perception and understanding of jail inmates to center their inherent dignity and help eliminate the stigma attached to their incarceration. 


  • "Jeffreys provides a cogent and highly credible explanation for why American jails are brutal places where humanity is in short order. But it is his argument that all people—including the jailed detainee—possess inalienable inherent dignity that renders his book a powerful and important addition to modern criminal justice scholarship. . . . We must not, urges Jeffreys, accept the "assault on human dignity" that takes place every day in our jails and prisons.”

    New York Journal of Books

  • America's Jails is a rich and thoughtful book. A powerful condemnation of America's jail system, but more than that, a plea to reset the starting point for reform. Jeffreys' call to bring ethics into the policy debate and to ground change in a shared recognition of the inherent dignity of those incarcerated is a challenge to us all.”

    —Sharon Shalev, Author of Supermax: Controlling Risk Through Solitary Confinement

  • “In this groundbreaking book, Derek Jeffreys demonstrates why the inhabitants of America’s troubled jails are endowed with human dignity. Written by a scholar who has deep knowledge of philosophy and of jails, this work makes a unique contribution.”

    —Michael B. Mushlin, Author of Rights of Prisoners, Fifth Edition