The books have received highly positive reviews from well-respected authorities & reviewers in the field:
“An impressively synoptic introduction to a socio-economically significant problem.”
The United States has more than 2 million prisoners, proportionately six times that of Europe. The financial costs of keeping so many behind bars are onerously high—$60 billion to $70 billion annually—and also impose steep costs on African-American and Latino communities, which are affected by the long-term absences of fathers, husbands, and providers. To make matters worse, Brakke (Fixing the U.S. Criminal Justice System, 2017, etc.) contends, such high incarceration rates don’t necessarily translate into fewer violent crimes, which occur at higher rates here than in Europe.
The author begins his exploration of the problem by supplying a concise history of its origins: a nationwide uptick in crime in the 1960s and its sensationalist coverage by the media inspired politicians to hyperbolically demonstrate their toughness on crime. Even after violent crime diminished in the ’90s, the strong attitude of “public punitiveness” never fully abated. Brakke compares the prison system of the United States to several international alternatives as he looks into possible ways to reduce incarceration and recidivism. He also looks at places within the United States that have achieved some degree of success in these areas, such as New York City and the state of Oregon.
The book provides a surfeit of practical solutions, including shifting the correctional emphasis from punishment to rehabilitation, curbing prosecutors’ zeal by converting their elected positions into appointments, and providing more job and literacy training to prisoners. Brakke covers much of this ground in his previous book on the criminal justice system, but the discussion of recidivism is much more extensive here, and the comparative study of prison systems is eye-opening. The author, who’s politically conservative, has a tendency to discuss liberals with too broad a partisan brush—a practice that belies the general empirical rigor of the book. Still, this is a remarkably comprehensive work given its brevity, argued with clarity and incisiveness.
“A thorough and innovative look at a burgeoning national problem.”
The United States has the highest incarceration rates in the world and a prison system that annually imposes unsustainably astronomical costs. Even worse, Brakke (The Price of Justice in America, 2016, etc.) argues, the social costs of its dysfunction are devastating. Families are financially ruined and torn asunder by emotional distress; children are forced to grow up without their fathers; and a toxic prison culture contributes to skyrocketing rates of criminal recidivism.
The author investigates the issue from a myriad of broad perspectives, thoughtfully discussing prosecutorial and judicial dereliction, police misconduct, and systemic problems like a plea- bargaining system that unfairly disadvantages poorer defendants. He excoriates the failed war on drugs, not only for its role in filling prisons with nonviolent offenders saddled with indefensibly punitive sentences, but also for its pervasive racial bias. Furthermore, Brakke blames sensationalist journalism for irresponsibly depicting defendants as guilty irrespective of the available evidence and for fanning the already hot flames of racial tension.
In his passionate and meticulous book, Brakke prescribes numerous, detailed solutions to these nagging problems, including a greater emphasis on rehabilitation in prison, increased judicial discretion with respect to sentencing, and a standardized system for training police officers in the use of deadly force. Some of his suggestions are not only familiar, but also widely practiced; for example, equipping police officers with cameras to encourage better behavior. But he also offers intriguingly novel ones, like establishing separate courts for urban, suburban, and rural areas and promoting a more sensitive, localized approach to law enforcement while neutralizing the prejudices upper-class citizens harbor about inner-city life.
Some of his more controversial judgments could use more empirical substantiation; for example, Brakke claims that, with respect to the media, “liberal racial bias seems to target whites.” But the study is generally rigorous and evenhanded and makes an admirable effort, in plainly readable prose, to consider opposing sides on any given issue. His measured tone is especially notable when discussing particularly contentious topics like the police use of stop-and-identify to canvass for criminal suspects.