A scathing primer on well-known but unaddressed criminal justice system discrimination against the poor, minorities, and the mentally ill.
Debut author Anderson, a prison reformer, National Guardsman, and ex-Marine, takes readers on a short, conscience-jarring excursion into the harsh realities of American justice. Now that the United States far outranks other countries in the sheer number of people behind bars, Anderson deftly highlights the ominous emergence beginning in the 1970s of what he calls an ideology-driven prison-industrial complex that, in addition to being a major government employer, is turning incarceration into a profit center for certain private businesses. Statistics he provides show that in 1970, on the eve of Nixon’s war on drugs, some 400,000 Americans were incarcerated. By 2010, the prison population had leaped to an astounding 2.5 million, including large numbers of low-level, nonviolent offenders whose real crime was not having enough money for adequate legal representation. Few went to trial; nearly all were compelled to cop a plea to avoid potentially heavier sentences. African-Americans make up a disproportionately large share of all inmates, evidence of what Anderson calls the new Jim Crow. This massive, taxpayer-funded lockup is now a multibillion industry that employs, according to Anderson’s statistics, some 750,000 people at the federal, state, and local levels. That’s not counting employees of privately run prisons. Concurrently, Anderson says, the last vestiges of pre-1970s programs for rehabilitation and mental health have given way to a more punishing and unforgiving approach that is quick to throw away the key. Anyone who has seen the crowded parking lots around courthouses, jails, and prisons cannot doubt that perps are, in a perverse way, major employers in an industry that too often produces only broken lives and more of the same. Anderson does a fine job bringing this out. He also scores in suggesting that we, the un-incarcerated, should be alarmed by police armed to the nines, plus the suddenly more common governmental imposition of what amounts to marshal law before and after major storms and in reaction to events such as the Boston Marathon bombing. Anderson gives every indication of being a left-oriented ideologue, but this hardly means we can dismiss all he has to say in this barbed wire blast.
Eye-opening to those who didn’t know; another slap in the face to those who did.