The Sentencing Project
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A meticulously researched rejoinder to the —war on crime.” The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit organization that promotes criminal justice reform, has monitored a literal explosion since 1973 in both incarceration rates and sentencing severity, ironically as real crime rates fluctuated and declined. Assistant director Mauer, a former consultant to the National Institute of Corrections, galvanizes the reader with both detail and directness as he examines closely how this Kafkaesque state of American justice developed and its untenable implications for our future. Mauer explicitly concerns himself with the curious intersections of race and class within this situation, examining the role of social unrest in the 1960s and other factors in conflating various —crime in the streets— scares, which faded as repressive measures directed largely against urban minorities remained, and the ultimately thwarted incarceration reform movement of the 1970s. Unsurprisingly, a good portion of his narrative concerns the —war on drugs— (as in one aptly titled chapter, —Crime as Politics—). Mauer demonstrates the labyrinthine methodology by which antidrug hysteria conceals both a means of underclass social control (particularly in the wake of post-1973 —mandatory minimum— laws) and the constant inflation of corrections and law enforcement spending. Mauer’s exposure of the deep race-based inequities in the prosecution of this war is upsetting and powerful; yet arguably the book is hobbled here by its rather dry and exhaustive approach, which could prove anathema to the readers who most need to consider the injustice and civil rights erosion which they tacitly support. (The book’s array of sophisticated charts, graphs, and footnotes provide a dizzying counterpoint to Mauer’s coolly deliberative prose.) Additionally, Mauer discusses the unintended consequences of maximum incarceration, such as the diversion of law enforcement resources and the disenfranchisement of minority populations through loss of voting rights; he concludes by offering possible new frameworks for thought and modulation within a seemingly intractable problem. Mauer provides a sobering, crucial voice amid the obfuscatory, insensate —tough-on-crime— din.

Pub Date: Aug. 31st, 1999
ISBN: 1-56584-429-7
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: New Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1999


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