A book delivers a scathing indictment of the American criminal justice system.
It’s clear that a social issue has reached critical mass when folks all across the political spectrum publicly recognize it as a fundamental problem. Such is the case with mass incarceration in the United States. As Woltz (The Path, 2014, etc.) points out in this ambitious work, the Department of Justice estimated in 2010 that 25 percent of American adults carry the burden of a criminal record. The author presents similarly alarming statistics throughout the text, but he also explains how things got to this point by means of concise historical analysis. Topics range from parole and plea bargains to jury rights and conspiracy statutes. In each chapter, Woltz examines the issue at hand, offers “action items,” and presents a case (often maddening and Kafkaesque in nature) to exemplify his argument. (On several occasions, he mentions his own bizarre encounters with the criminal justice system, but he recounts them in depth elsewhere.) Even the most politically astute readers may be surprised to learn that the much-criticized Citizens United Supreme Court decision “is actually the culmination of 130 years of misinterpretation by that same Court, ostensibly beginning with an offhand comment that was made by a Supreme Court justice in 1886 before the case [Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company] was even heard, but was left on the record.” Woltz paints such a bleak picture that some may wonder if the situation is essentially intractable due to the deep-seated financial and political interests at play. Others may question the viability of his recommendations, such as the abolishment of the FBI and the Department of Justice. Woltz seems aware of this potential hesitation, as he writes: “However, the nation has become so accustomed to these organizations being in power that it sounds foreign—almost insane—to talk about putting them back in the unconstitutional hole from which they sprang.” Thus, he concludes the book with what is perhaps a more achievable goal: “limit any donation to any politician to those living, breathing human beings who reside in their district of election.” This seemingly simple act, which would necessarily entail the overturning of Citizens United, would have far-reaching implications throughout the entire political landscape.
This impressively cogent work about mass incarceration provides concrete actions to curb the excesses of a government apparatus spinning out of control.