A former parole officer illuminates numerous significant flaws in the American criminal justice system.
After teaching high school English and then earning a master’s degree, Hardy took a job as a parole officer in his hometown of New Orleans, which “has become emblematic of institutional decay in America.” Carrying a gun and wearing a bulletproof vest, he spent most of his days in the poverty-stricken sections of New Orleans, checking on convicted criminals paroled after serving prison time. When not meeting with parolees, Hardy was dealing with clients on probation after they had been arrested and brought before a judge but before being incarcerated by the state of Louisiana, which was “the world’s leading incarcerator” until 2018. The author understood that he would be paid modestly, work long hours, and encounter potentially dangerous situations. What he did not anticipate was the crushing case load: about 220 parolees and probationers, four times the number suggested by agency standards. To tell the narrative cohesively, Hardy focuses on seven of his clients—six men and one woman, black and white, all involved in some manner with illegal drugs. A few of the seven seem sincere about cleaning up, finding stable housing, and accepting minimum wage jobs that might lead to exiting probation or parole; the other clients show no real commitment to escaping the criminal justice system. Hardy quickly realized that budgetary constraints would severely limit the alternatives he could provide. In addition to telling the often harrowing stories of his clients, Hardy offers insights into police officers, social workers, prosecutors, judges, and, especially, his PO colleagues. In brief passages, he also illuminates how the relentlessly depressing job affects his life at home with his wife. After four years, Hardy resigned to become a special agent for the FBI. Throughout, the author is refreshingly candid with readers, who will realize that his ultimate goal is to prevent his clients from continued lives of crime, violence, or even death.
A powerful, necessary book with revelatory passages on nearly every page.