Excerpt, from a meditation about a ruined prison:
But ambiguity is born of long life. Archaeologists are occasionally unsure whether an unidentified solidly built ancient structure is a prison or whether it is a treasury building. The polar ends of a society's assets -- its wealth and its criminals -- are guarded with equal vehemence. Both are of supreme concern and utmost value. Ultimately they are indistinguishable.This is particularly salient in the United States since, as Steinberg notes on p. 394, "America has 5 percent of the world'ds population, 25 percent of the world's prison population. A population the size of an American city left without the vote."
For more on prisons in America, see these two July 2010 Economist articles: