A lawyer and journalist exposes flaws in the criminal justice system, with an emphasis on the untrammeled power of local prosecutors.
Because the United States contains several thousand prosecutor jurisdictions (mostly at the county level), identifying misconduct is often difficult. In this potent book, New York Times Magazine writer Bazelon (Yale Law School; Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy, 2013) emphasizes prosecutors who care more about winning convictions rather than upholding their sworn duty of seeking justice. The author makes a convincing argument that if there were a larger number of justice-seeking prosecutors, we could reduce incarceration by a substantial percentage in a nation overwhelmed by prison costs. In addition, individual lives would no longer be derailed by criminal charges that are unnecessarily severe or even downright false. Bazelon aims her book at nonlawyer voters as well as defense attorneys, judges, police officers, social workers, prison wardens, and others in the criminal justice system. A clear message that resonates throughout the book: Never confuse the law with common sense. The author narrates her impressively researched book primarily through two defendants. One is Noura Jackson, a Memphis resident who was 18 when she was charged with the murder of her mother. Despite no physical evidence of guilt or eyewitness testimony, Jackson went to prison. Believing in Jackson’s innocence, Bazelon wrote about the case in August 2017. Based on the extensive evidence she gathered, the author rightly demonizes the Memphis district attorney, the trial judge, and other law enforcement personnel in the Jackson prosecution. The author also explores the plight of Kevin (a pseudonym), a teenager arrested on a gun charge in Brooklyn. As Bazelon makes abundantly clear through her cogent, credible arguments, a sensible, compassionate system never would have arrested or prosecuted Kevin. Throughout the two narratives, the author demonstrates occasional optimism due to the election of reform-minded prosecutors in a few cities. The appendix, “Twenty-One Principles for Twenty-First-Century Prosecutors,” is also helpful.
A vitally important new entry in the continued heated debates about criminal justice.