An Introduction to Mass Incarceration, part 4

This is the 4th in a series of 5 posts discussing mass incarceration.

Yesterday’s post provided examples of different organizations working with mass incarceration. Today, we will explore 5 resources that are beneficial for learning more about the issue. This list is obviously not exhaustive, but serves as a good place to begin gathering information about the current system of mass incarceration.

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Currently, The New Jim Crow is the book on mass incarceration. Written by Michelle Alexander, this book explores the current incarceration system, how the system has developed, and why the system has continued. The book also covers policing, the War on Drugs, sentencing practices, and issues of race in the current system of incarceration. The major point that this book covers is the disparate impact that the current system has on the racial minority populations in the United States. Many different parts of the current incarceration system operate in ways similar to Jim Crow laws formerly seen in southern states, parts that have become legal under “colorblind” language. Probably the most comprehensive book on mass incarceration, this is the place to begin learning about and understanding the issue.

Unequal Under Law by Doris Marie Provine

Released several years before The New Jim Crow, this book deals with content similar to that found in The New Jim Crow. Unequal Under Law more specifically deals with the War on Drugs, race in the War on Drugs, and the specific example of the relation of crack and cocaine usage and sentencing in the War on Drugs. This book is a valuable supplement to The New Jim Crow due to a more focused discussion on the specifics of race in the War on Drugs.

Race to Incarcerate by Marc Mauer

It may be safe to say that this book was the book on mass incarceration before The New Jim Crow was. First released in 2001, Race to Incarcerate discussed race, sentencing, and the system of mass incarceration and raised concern over the issue at a time when the prison population was 1 million people lees than it is today. The book also looks further back at American legislative history surrounding incarceration policy than The New Jim Crow. A new, updated edition of Race to Incarcerate was released in 2006, and an illustrated, comic/graphic novel style version was released in 2013. This book is also a valuable supplement to The New Jim Crow, providing some historical information about the creation of the current system that is not covered by Alexander. Additionally, while Marc Mauer is the Executive Director of the Sentencing Commission, and this book was put out by the Sentencing Commission, there is not necessarily any information about the organization; some information will undoubtedly be similar, though, to information provided on the Sentencing Commission’s website.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

When reading a book like The New Jim Crow, it can be easy to read about various statistical information while having difficulty seeing the people involved in the system. Just Mercy is a book that focuses on individuals involved in the incarceration system. Written by Bryan Stevenson, a death penalty defense lawyer in Alabama, this book gives examples of individuals that Stevenson has worked with and represented while demonstrating some issues with the criminal justice system, the death penalty, and what can happen when we forget to see the people involved in the process. This book also covers large pieces of information about the work of EJI, one of the organizations discussed in the previous post.

Fear of Judging by Kate Stith and José A. Cabranes

Fear of Judging is a book that explores how the current sentencing system came into being. The book was published in 1998, but information regarding the formation of the U.S. Sentencing Commission and the Commission’s regulations, the introduction of mandatory minimum sentencing, and the perceived issues with sentencing that brought the system into place is insightful and accurate. Much of the judicial and sentencing system still operates the same or similar to the information presented in the book. The book was written by a lawyer and a judge, and some of the discussion can be a bit technical and dense. Even with the technical and dense pieces, the book is still a good place to begin to understand how and why the system functions the way it does today.

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2 thoughts on “An Introduction to Mass Incarceration, part 4

  1. Courtney Eppler

    I am really looking forward to reading some of these books! Just Mercy is on my bookshelf and on my summer reading list. I think a lot of the issues addressed in these resources probably spill over into many other areas of injustice as well

  2. With so many high quality resources arguing persuasively against mass incarceration, I wonder why the political movement to change things hasn’t gained more traction. I couldn’t think of 5 high profile academic book arguing FOR mass incarceration and I’m not aware of a visible movement defending the status quo, so why is this problem so intractable? And do you know of conservative, law-and-order academics who have tried to rebut Michelle Alexander and the others listed here?

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