A research-heavy, advocacy-grounded study of urban blight and incarceration, in which the authors “argue that efforts to end mass incarceration must go beyond reforming legislation or police practices.”
San Antonio–based youth-development director Lugalia-Hollon and Cooper (Co-Director, Institute on Social Exclusion/Adler Univ.) focus on Austin, one of Chicago’s most economically depressed, high-crime neighborhoods. Throughout the book, the authors use the existence of the Eisenhower Expressway, which runs through the city into the suburbs, as a touchstone for inequality. Though the expressway exits are separated by only a few miles, what drivers find depending on the exit varies dramatically. The exit to Austin leads to shuttered businesses, inadequately funded schools, deteriorated housing, easily located drug dealers, a huge percentage of families below the poverty line, a brutal police presence, and alarming incarceration rates for African-American males. One more exit west leads to the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, a thriving, pleasant community populated by a low contingent of minority residents. Lugalia-Hollon and Cooper recognize that individual responsibility accounts for at least some of the massive economic and opportunity gaps, especially with regard to the need for more involvement by parents in community reform efforts. Mostly, however, they blame an uncaring, racially biased set of government agencies and businesses that actively avoid investment in Austin. The most blameworthy actors, it seems, are the police who arrest residents on the slimmest of pretexts, the prosecutors and judges who treat arrestees as cattle to be sent to prison, and the prison officials who encourage such behaviors to keep the cells filled. The authors offer possible solutions to most of the problems they document. Almost all of those solutions, however, depend upon major, unlikely readjustments of political priorities as well as massive investments in Austin by government, corporations, and not-for-profit foundations.
At times bedeviled by academic jargon and repetition of obvious problems, but essentially a worthy plea for change.