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A Great Analysis of a National Disaster
on October 19, 2013
Sending folks off to prison is a sad reality for criminal defense lawyers. From the well of the court, these voyages are always cast as morality plays, dramas in which the defendant is accused of transgressing some social, and perhaps also some moral, code. Holding the defendant "accountable" is the rhetorical move prosecutors and judges rely upon to imprison.
But the rhetoric of punishment rings hollow. Something more is going on. We send so many folks to prison, and often for such trifling reasons. Things have reached a point in which it makes sense to speak of mass incarceration. Is this best thought of as an epidemic?
Ernest Drucker thinks so. He brings the skills of an epidemiologist to bear on why, with five percent of the world's population, the United States incarcerates 25 percent of the world's prisoners. His answer is simple: the war on drugs accounts for the explosive growth during the past forty years of the prison population.
The statistics are familiar enough. Young black men, young Hispanic men, face a far greater chance of landing in prison than to their white counterparts, and usually for drug offenses. We build prisons at an astonishing rate. Some 2.5 million Americans are currently behind bars. Millions more are on probation.
Drucker's brief work supports from a novel perspective the need for reform of drug laws. We need treatment, not prison; legalization, not the creation of an incarcerated nation.
This is a well-written and even entertaining book about a depressing subject. I was dubious about whether Drucker could pull the analysis off. He did, but, I suspect, I was an easy cell. Mass incarceration is a national disaster.