cover image Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration

Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration

Emily Bazelon. Random, $28 (488p) ISBN 978-0-399-59001-6

In this timely exploration, Bazelon, a staff writer for the New York Times Magazine, argues that “the unfettered power of prosecutors is the missing piece for explaining how the number of people incarcerated in the United States has quintupled since the 1980s.” Bazelon skillfully illustrates this idea by following the developments in two gripping cases with novelistic intensity. In the first, an old-school prosecutor’s win-at-any-cost philosophy and questionable ethical behavior results in the conviction of a young Tennessee woman charged with a brutal murder, which is unanimously overturned by an appellate court years later because of prosecutorial misconduct. The second features the opposite: under a policy intended to reduce incarceration rates developed by a progressive district attorney in Brooklyn, a young man facing a gun possession charge pursues diversion (a rehabilitation program) rather than a two-year minimum sentence. Bazelon adeptly explains the culture that drives traditional district attorneys and the philosophies of reform-minded district attorneys, then briefly delves into the difficulty of preventing prosecutorial misconduct, the inequities of a bail system that effectively criminalizes poverty, systemic racial disparities, the sociological arguments for diversion, and how severe mandatory sentences distort the criminal justice system. Then, with modest optimism, she presents a road map for the emerging reform movement. This is a powerful indictment of the traditional prosecution model. Agent: Elyse Cheney, Elyse Cheney Literary Associates. (Apr.)