Two of America’s most urgent social issues are police corruption/brutality and the incarceration epidemic. Of course, they are inextricably linked, feeding back and forth in a depressing cycle of poverty, violence, and despair. It’s abundantly clear that widespread reform is needed, channeling federal and state money away from increased militarization of police officers and toward public health, mental health, and rehabilitation initiatives. In addition, police must be held accountable for mistakes and any instances of racism or prejudice against the citizens they are sworn to serve.

I’m pleased to highlight two important January books that address these issues: One is focused on police malfeasance in Oakland, California, and the other chronicles the history and current decrepit state of one of America’s most notorious prisons: Rikers Island in New York.

In The Riders Come Out at Night: Brutality, Corruption, and Cover-Up in Oakland (Atria, Jan. 10), Polk Award–winning journalists Ali Winston and Darwin BondGraham follow the corruption that infected the Oakland police department for so many years, disproportionately affecting marginalized communities. As our critic notes, “It didn’t take the killing of George Floyd to convince minority communities that in most places in America, the police are the enemy. This was especially true of Oakland, California, with a large Black and Latine population brutalized by a White-led police force.” The authors present a rigorously reported picture of what can happen when police act like vigilantes and fail to be prosecuted when it is warranted. “The wholly timely—if surely controversial—lesson that the authors draw, in a time of reform, is that all police departments require at least some outside, civilian monitoring,” our critic says. “A fiercely argued case that the police can’t be trusted to police themselves—and that such policing is essential.”

One of the other main elements plaguing our deeply flawed criminal justice system is the sheer number of people locked up in prisons that are, to put it bluntly, hellholes. Arguably the most notorious of these squalid detention centers is the subject of Rikers: An Oral History (Random House, Jan. 17) by Graham Rayman and Reuven Blau. In a starred review, our critic describes it well: “A multivocal tour of hell on Earth: the infamous prison complex that is ‘out of sight, hard for visitors to reach, closed, and foreboding’.…Rikers isn’t so much a jail or prison as a series of them, with facilities for mobsters, murderers, shoplifters, youth offenders, and the mentally ill—but sometimes with such populations intermixed. No one, it seems, is quite clear on what Rikers is supposed to do: Is it to rehabilitate or to punish?”

Based on more than 100 interviews over two years, the text is a kaleidoscopic picture of truly deplorable conditions. One need only look at some of the chapter titles to get a sense of the horrors contained within: “It’s a Different Type of Plantation Mentality,” “I’ve Walked With the Razor in My Mouth,” “Factory of Despair,” “People Made Weapons Out of Bones,” “Serious Violence Is Routinized.” None of this is easy reading, but it should be required for any concerned citizen—and certainly anyone who doesn’t believe that the ubiquity of incarceration is one of our nation’s gravest ills. As our reviewer notes, “If there were ever an argument for prison reform, it’s in these pages.”

Eric Liebetrau is the nonfiction and managing editor.