Important reading for anyone involved in the criminal justice system.

PRISON BY ANY OTHER NAME

THE HARMFUL CONSEQUENCES OF POPULAR REFORMS

A useful survey of a variety of “alternatives to incarceration.”

Truthout editor-in-chief Schenwar and Law, the co-founder of NYC Books Through Bars, critique efforts by reformers seeking to significantly reduce the prison population. Both authors have firsthand experience with the criminal justice system: Schenwar’s sister, a heroin addict, spent more than 14 years in a variety of detention centers and on parole and probation; as a teenager, Law was arrested for armed robbery and served five years of probation. Now journalists on the front lines of the incarceration issue, the authors offer a massively researched book about not just prison reform, but about the people who are trying to effect needed change. They show that although advocates are almost universally well intentioned, not all of the work has led to progress. In a poignant foreword, Michelle Alexander sets the tone, discussing how both high-tech digital prisons and lower-tech control mechanisms are often as harsh as what can be found inside traditional jails and prisons. Schenwar and Law build on the foreword skillfully and persuasively, explaining with case studies, anecdotes, and scholarly research how many of the new pathways are about controlling those deemed criminals, about punishment rather than rehabilitation. Those who avoid a physical prison cell for a year through a plea bargain or some other protocol often end up with years of house arrest wearing a costly, confining ankle monitor followed by additional years of scrutiny by a probation officer. Many POs report negligibly small violations, which puts the offender back into the prison system. The authors also illuminate the mechanics of mandatory drug treatment facilities, mental illness centers, sex offender regimens, prostitution “rescue” programs, foster care placements, and school-to-prison pipelines. Regarding the last, the authors write that “it is time to challenge the notion that surveillance and policing are the answers to school-based violence. School safety does not come in the form of a uniform, a badge, and a gun.”

Important reading for anyone involved in the criminal justice system.

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-62097-310-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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