"For THE COSTLY U.S. PRISON SYSTEM: 'An analytical critique of the American prison system coupled with practical strategies to reduce incarceration rates....This is a remarkably comprehensive work given its brevity, argued with clarity and incisiveness. An impressively synoptic introduction to a socio-economically significant problem."– Kirkus Reviews
An analytical critique of the American prison system coupled with practical strategies to reduce incarceration rates.
The United States has more than 2 million prisoners, proportionately six times that of Europe. The financial costs of keeping so many behind bars are onerously high—$60 billion to $70 billion annually—and also impose steep costs on African-American and Latino communities, which are affected by the long-term absences of fathers, husbands, and providers. To make matters worse, Brakke (Fixing the U.S. Criminal Justice System, 2017, etc.) contends, such high incarceration rates don’t necessarily translate into fewer violent crimes, which occur at higher rates here than in Europe. The author begins his exploration of the problem by supplying a concise history of its origins: a nationwide uptick in crime in the 1960s and its sensationalist coverage by the media inspired politicians to hyperbolically demonstrate their toughness on crime. Even after violent crime diminished in the ’90s, the strong attitude of “public punitiveness” never fully abated. Brakke compares the prison system of the United States to several international alternatives as he looks into possible ways to reduce incarceration and recidivism. He also looks at places within the United States that have achieved some degree of success in these areas, such as New York City and the state of Oregon. The book provides a surfeit of practical solutions, including shifting the correctional emphasis from punishment to rehabilitation, curbing prosecutors’ zeal by converting their elected positions into appointments, and providing more job and literacy training to prisoners. Brakke covers much of this ground in his previous book on the criminal justice system, but the discussion of recidivism is much more extensive here, and the comparative study of prison systems is eye-opening. The author, who’s politically conservative, has a tendency to discuss liberals with too broad a partisan brush—a practice that belies the general empirical rigor of the book. Still, this is a remarkably comprehensive work given its brevity, argued with clarity and incisiveness.
An impressively synoptic introduction to a socio-economically significant problem.
A book calls for the reform of the American criminal justice system.
The United States has the highest incarceration rates in the world and a prison system that annually imposes unsustainably astronomical costs. Even worse, Brakke (The Price of Justice in America, 2016, etc.) argues, the social costs of its dysfunction are devastating. Families are financially ruined and torn asunder by emotional distress; children are forced to grow up without their fathers; and a toxic prison culture contributes to skyrocketing rates of criminal recidivism. The author investigates the issue from a myriad of broad perspectives, thoughtfully discussing prosecutorial and judicial dereliction, police misconduct, and systemic problems like a plea-bargaining system that unfairly disadvantages poorer defendants. He excoriates the failed war on drugs, not only for its role in filling prisons with nonviolent offenders saddled with indefensibly punitive sentences, but also for its pervasive racial bias. Furthermore, Brakke blames sensationalist journalism for irresponsibly depicting defendants as guilty irrespective of the available evidence and for fanning the already hot flames of racial tension. In his passionate and meticulous book, Brakke prescribes numerous, detailed solutions to these nagging problems, including a greater emphasis on rehabilitation in prison, increased judicial discretion with respect to sentencing, and a standardized system for training police officers in the use of deadly force. Some of his suggestions are not only familiar, but also widely practiced; for example, equipping police officers with cameras to encourage better behavior. But he also offers intriguingly novel ones, like establishing separate courts for urban, suburban, and rural areas and promoting a more sensitive, localized approach to law enforcement while neutralizing the prejudices upper-class citizens harbor about inner-city life. Some of his more controversial judgments could use more empirical substantiation; for example, Brakke claims that, with respect to the media, “liberal racial bias seems to target whites.” But the study is generally rigorous and evenhanded and makes an admirable effort, in plainly readable prose, to consider opposing sides on any given issue. His measured tone is especially notable when discussing particularly contentious topics like the police use of stop-and-identify to canvass for criminal suspects.
A thorough and innovative look at a burgeoning national problem.
A book delivers a synopsis of the cleavages that divide Americans and some potential solutions.
One of the most scrupulously studied of subjects in American political discourse is citizens’ toxic divisiveness, something that could, according to Brakke (American Justice?, 2016), bring about the nation’s demise. He provides a taxonomy of the various species of disunity that plague the United States, including more obvious ones like racial and economic division, and less frequently discussed ones such as the disharmony engendered by generational and geographical differences. In the case of racial tension, the author situates the problem within its long-standing historical context, assessing the ways in which race-based enmity has been fostered since the nation’s genesis. Brakke also furnishes an analysis of the resentful tug-of war between cosmopolitan cities and the rural areas that lie beyond their perimeters. In each section, the author summarizes the problem, presenting the viewpoint from either side, and then supplies some candidate solutions. For example, within a discussion of the increasingly wide distance that separates the old and the young in the United States, Brakke suggests dispensing a tax credit to fully grown children who are willing to live with and care for their aging parents. In addition, while assessing the obstinate problem of racial tension in the country, he draws from the example of the military, which has managed to successfully combat segregation without resorting to any controversial affirmative action program. The cogent theme underlying the entire study is that while the fracturing of the nation into warring parts threatens its existence, there remains hope in the many ways those factions still depend upon one another. Brakke’s prose couldn’t be clearer—he writes with informality and intellectual temperance. In addition, it’s refreshing to see a work that addresses American divisiveness explore territory beyond race, wealth, and political affiliation. But the solutions the author offers don’t break much new ground, and can be as exasperatingly general as they are obvious. For example, as an antidote to racial tension, he counsels: “Anything that would reduce poverty in the urban ghettos would certainly help.”
A bipartisan and commonsensical study of U.S. disharmony, though somewhat lacking in originality.