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Apparently convicts are saints
on December 20, 2013
Yes, the title for this review hyperbole. Many points made in this book are valid. I believe that there are too many people incarcerated in the US, that mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses are asinine, and that drug treatment should be made available. However, Earnest Drucker went to unreasonable lengths to ensure that he never implied that convicts have done anything wrong. In fact, he seems to do the opposite, I got the impression that Drucker was implying that criminals have done nothing wrong. It is true that mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offences are asinine, but to imply that drug use and drug dealing are completely victimless crimes is also asinine. We must admit that crime, even a non-violent drug offense, has detrimental effects on society, even if that detriment in many cases is relatively small.
While reading "Plague of Prisons" I was constantly reminded of a chapter in a far right-wing book, "Life at the Bottom" by Theodore Dalrymple. The chapter was called "The Knife Went In". In this chapter Dalrymple blames liberal academics for the failure of criminals to recognize their role in the commission of the crimes they commit. The criminal, instead of saying that he stabbed someone, would say "the knife went in", as if the fact that his hand was tenaciously wrapped around the weapon at the time is completely inconsequential. I did not believe that Dalrymple was being fair when I read his book, but Earnest Drucker seems to be making his case.
I am aware that Drucker wrote this book employing the science of epidemiology, but to refer to prisoners or convicts as "those who have been exposed to the criminal justice system" is too much. In addition, the presence of a statistically significant relationship IS NOT proof of causality. One example of fallible statistical analysis is Drucker's mention of a statistical study of infant mortality rates of parents who have been incarcerated. He mentions that the study was controlling for other factors yet smoking, alcohol consumption, drug use, and obesity were NOT among the factors listed.
There are too many contributing factors and moral issues involved in the debate over crime and punishment for epidemiology to be an effective method of analysis. In the book, Drucker describes the history of epidemiology, and explains that epidemiology was the primary science used to study disease until science advanced the field of pathology enough for man to see and study the micro-organisms responsible for causing disease. I would submit that a pathological approach to the "plague of prisons" would have been more appropriate in this day and age.
I was going to give this book two stars (for a very brief time I was even considering three) because some of the underlying points are valid. That was until I read "In Defense of Flogging" by Peter Moskos (Don't let the title throw you off, it is a thought provoking yet entertaining read). Drucker takes 189 tedious pages to make the same points that Moskos makes in 30. There is no point in giving this book additional stars for truth completely overshadowed by the irksome literary tactics of liberal academia. Especially when there is another excellent, entertaining, and down-to-earth book which says the exact same thing. I am a moderate leaning conservative, but I'm certain that anyone that is not politically aligned with the far-left will find this book extremely off-putting. After all, the people who need to be persuaded to abolish mandatory minimum sentences tend to be on the right side of the political spectrum.