Prisoners of Politics: Breaking the Cycle of Mass Incarceration

Rachel Elise Barkow. Belknap, $35 (295p) ISBN 978-0-674-91923-5
Barkow, a professor of regulatory law and policy at New York University, argues in this excellent analysis that “one of the great tragedies of American domestic policy [is] that many of our strategies for combating crime ruin lives but are not necessary to improve public safety, and in many cases... increase the risk of crime.” She elaborates that “political forces and emotional responses have taken charge, leaving concern with rational evaluation on the side”: racial bias and inaccurate media reporting on violent crime foment an obsession among voters with “toughness on crime,” which leads elected officials to pursue excessive sentencing to win votes. Because sentencing minimums and prisons focus more on retribution than rehabilitation, she writes, long sentences (which don’t reduce crime) are typical and incarcerated people are not properly prepared for reentry, making them more likely to commit additional crimes. Barkow argues for a multifaceted approach to reform: reconceive the roles of prosecutors and mandatory minimum sentencing; use experts for data-backed criminal justice policymaking and resource allocation; and offer education, mental health, and employment programs to incarcerated people to facilitate their reentry. Barkow’s work is well researched and supported by data and specific examples. Readers interested in criminal justice reform will find much to appreciate here. (Mar.)
Reviewed on : 01/23/2019
Release date: 04/01/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
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