Most helpful critical review
248 of 255 people found the following review helpful
Some good prison info but padded with bad legal advice
on January 31, 2004
The chapters on how to survive prison are decent, but I believe that after the authors finished writing them, they realized that they had only about 100 pages and they needed to plump the book out. Unfortunately, rather than delving deeper into the promised subject matter -- I would have liked to read excepts from interviews with former inmates, and anecdotes about mistakes they made in prison or how they prevailed in bad situations -- the authors added sections decrying the U.S. penal and legal system and the war on drugs and, most egregiously, dispensing often incorrect or misleading legal advice.
I am a criminal defense attorney. One of the biggest problems I have with the book is the reckless advice that a defendant should generally not plea guilty and rather take the case through trial. There's a good reason that over 90% of defendants plead guilty, whether their lawyers are retained or appointed, and it's not because those lawyers coerced them into doing so. It's because the rise of sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimums have made it Russian roulette for many felony defendants to go to trial. At least where I practice, many plea offers can save defendants significant jail time compared with a trial conviction. Look, I love to try cases, and it's great to get a client with a decent case and the willingness to fight it all the way, but taking a loser case to trial is usually a colossal mistake for the defendant, one which can cost them years. The book's broad claim that it's generally better to go to trial is no substitute for a skilled and honest lawyer's individualized assessment of the strength of a case and the risks of a trial verdict.
There are also preposterous claims in the book about the legal system, such as that if marijuana is found in a car and one of the car's occupants previously pled guilty to a crime while the other occupant was convicted of a crime after trial, then the marijuana will be pinned on the person who pled because the prosecutors feel it'll be an easier conviction since the guy will presumably just roll over again. That's ridiculous -- in fact, both will be charged with the weed. The authors also claim, erroneously, that defense lawyers owe their allegiance to the legal system at the expense of their clients. That is the type of misstatement which breeds a mistrust of defense attorneys, and that can hurt defendants if it causes them to disregard good advice from their attorneys. The authors do better when they stick to what they know -- how life is in prison -- rather than speculating on how the legal system works.
The authors also try a little too hard to make their case that the criminal justice system is blatantly rigged, and it comes off like propaganda. I am someone whose professional experience has made him wary of the criminal justice system and acutely aware of the disproportionate power of prosecutors and police, but when the authors start claiming that police may be paying informants with narcotics, I become skeptical about whatever the book claims as fact. Look -- there's enough wrong with the laws and the criminal justice system that an author doesn't need to make the system appear to be an overt, sinister compact between judges, prosecutors, cops and defense attorneys to railroad people.
The book places an undue emphasis on the minority of cases which involve conspiracy convictions, prosecutions for selling fake drugs to undercovers (so rare!), cooperation agreements, and no-knock home raids. Little misleading comments, such that there are people in federal prison for merely failing to repay their student loans, detract from the book's credibility. The authors try too hard to sell the reader on the injustice of it all, but they really don't need to clobber the reader over the head with dubious and paranoid claims. The real problems with the system are inflammatory enough!
That said, the middle section of the book regarding prison life is instructive, and I assume it's not as misinformed as the earlier section but rather founded on personal experience and solid research. If you're going to jail, this is a useful book, but skip the first few chapters and be skeptical of the information outside of the authors' area of expertise.