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THE SHADOW SYSTEM by Sylvia A. Harvey


Mass Incarceration and the American Family

by Sylvia A. Harvey

Pub Date: April 7th, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-56858-880-3
Publisher: Bold Type Books

A black journalist with firsthand experience of the incarceration system’s impact on families, especially children, reveals its many wrongs.

With adequate statistics to back up her arguments, Harvey, who reports frequently on race and the criminal justice system (the Nation, New York Post, VQR, etc.), charges that structural racism, inequality, and biased legislation all hit poor and racial minorities the hardest. In addition to presenting her research, the author tells moving human stories of three cases—in Miami, Louisville, and Jackson, Mississippi. She rotates through these so every third chapter returns to one of them, a narrative strategy that allows the author to expand on the details of each case. Rather than focusing on the people behind bars, Harvey investigates the stories of their families on the outside, showing how the family members of the incarcerated provide a vital lifeline to the prisoners. Through her often poignant close-ups, readers get to know them and see how they have been adversely affected both economically and emotionally and how difficult it is for millions of children to spend quality time with incarcerated parents. Moving beyond the individual human stories that make this account so readable, Harvey also gives a bigger picture of the institutions—the criminal justice system, the welfare system, and the education system—and their programs and practices that affect the lives of families of the incarcerated. Furthermore, she makes comparisons between the actions of the Obama and Trump administrations and examines what individual states have and have not done. Reform of the criminal justice system is essential, she writes. In order for this to occur, we must work diligently to overcome public indifference and willful ignorance: “Who are we if we don’t stand up for those most vulnerable?”

A solid combination of research, compassion, and anger that sheds light on a highly flawed system.