An urgent anthology suggesting progressive approaches to ending the era of overimprisonment.
“Mass incarceration is destroying hundreds of communities and millions of families across America,” writes editor Drucker (Global Public Health/New York Univ.; A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America, 2011, etc.), who views this tangled situation as a matter of public health. That discipline, he writes, “has a well-developed model of prevention that breaks interventions into primary, secondary, and tertiary stages….I have drawn on these concepts and organized the book in three parts that mirror these three categories.” Essays in the first section thus focus on reducing the number of people entering prisons and jails, the “front door” approach. The contributors discuss the counterintuitive narratives of New York City and California. Previously focused on tough-on-crime approaches, their “unprecedented reduction in reliance on incarceration has been a bottom-up, advocacy-driven, community-focused strategy.” Other perspectives come from public defenders, who testify to the corrosive nature of the process by observing, “an arrest is never just an arrest,” and a judge who ponders how he “can and should act to minimize the blight of mass incarceration.” The discussions of secondary-level interventions focus on improving prison conditions, examining the complex issue of children of imprisoned parents, and looking at controversial reconsiderations of responses to violence. Finally, the tertiary discussion focuses on facilitating harm reduction as former prisoners re-enter their communities, in terms of reconciliation with survivors of violence, preventing recidivism and drug relapses, and even refashioning the economies of “prison towns.” The strengths of the anthology are the evidence-based clarity of each chapter’s discussion and their thoroughness in examining distinct aspects of mass incarceration. Still, as Drucker and some contributors acknowledge, their initiatives are unlikely to move forward beyond the local level during the Trump presidency and its call for “long mandatory sentences and a resumption of the failed war on drugs.”
A unified and hopeful collection that should interest attorneys, activists, and open-minded law enforcement professionals.