Prisoners of Politics: Breaking the Cycle of Mass Incarceration

Prisoners of Politics: Breaking the Cycle of Mass Incarceration

by Rachel Elise Barkow


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A CounterPunch Best Book of the Year
A Lone Star Policy Institute Recommended Book

“If you care, as I do, about disrupting the perverse politics of criminal justice, there is no better place to start than Prisoners of Politics.”
—James Forman, Jr., author of Locking Up Our Own

The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The social consequences of this fact—recycling people who commit crimes through an overwhelmed system and creating a growing class of permanently criminalized citizens—are devastating. A leading criminal justice reformer who has successfully rewritten sentencing guidelines, Rachel Barkow argues that we would be safer, and have fewer people in prison, if we relied more on expertise and evidence and worried less about being “tough on crime.” A groundbreaking work that is transforming our national conversation on crime and punishment, Prisoners of Politics shows how problematic it is to base criminal justice policy on the whims of the electorate and argues for an overdue shift that could upend our prison problem and make America a more equitable society.

“A critically important exploration of the political dynamics that have made us one of the most punitive societies in human history. A must-read by one of our most thoughtful scholars of crime and punishment.”
—Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy

“Barkow’s analysis suggests that it is not enough to slash police budgets if we want to ensure lasting reform. We also need to find ways to insulate the process from political winds.”
—David Cole, New York Review of Books

“A cogent and provocative argument about how to achieve true institutional reform and fix our broken system.”
—Emily Bazelon, author of Charged

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674248328
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 01/26/2021
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 196,649
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Rachel Elise Barkow is the Segal Family Professor of Regulatory Law and Policy and the Faculty Director of the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law at New York University. She has been a member of the United States Sentencing Commission since 2013 and is also a member of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Policy Advisory Panel. Barkow served as a law clerk to Judge Laurence H. Silberman on the District of Columbia Circuit and Justice Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court, and is the recipient of NYU’s Distinguished Teaching Award.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Part 1 17

1 Misleading Monikers 19

2 Senseless Sentencing 38

3 Counterproductive Confinement 56

4 Obsolete Outcomes 73

5 Collateral Calamities 88

Part 2 103

6 Populist Politics 105

7 Institutional Intransigence 125

Part 3 139

8 Policing Prosecutors 143

9 Engaging Experts 165

10 Catalyzing Courts 186

Conclusion 202

Notes 207

Acknowledgments 281

Index 285

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