How the Justice System Creates Mass Incarceration
by Edited by Lauren-Brooke Eisen
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Pub Date 26 Mar 2024 | Archive Date 03 Jul 2024
The United States has by far the world’s largest population of incarcerated people. More than a million Americans are imprisoned; hundreds of thousands more are held in jails. This vast system has doled out punishment—particularly to people from marginalized groups—on an unfathomable scale. At the same time, it has manifestly failed to secure public safety, instead perpetuating inequalities and recidivism. Why does the United States see punishment as the main response to social harm, and what are the alternatives?
This book brings together essays by scholars, practitioners, activists, and writers, including incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, to explore the harms of this punitive approach. The chapters address a range of issues, from policing to prosecution, and from how people are treated in prison to the consequences of a criminal conviction. Together, they consider a common theme: We cannot reduce our dependence on mass incarceration until we confront our impulse to punish in ways that are excessive, often wildly disproportionate to the harm caused. Essays trace how a maze of local, state, and federal agencies have contributed to mass incarceration and deterred attempts at reform. They shed light on how the excesses of America’s criminal legal system are entwined with poverty, racism, and the legacy of slavery. A wide-ranging and powerful look at the failures of the status quo, Excessive Punishment also considers how to reimagine the justice system to support restoration instead of retribution.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lauren-Brooke Eisen is senior director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program. She is the author of Inside Private Prisons: An American Dilemma in the Age of Mass Incarceration (Columbia, 2017) and has written dozens of reports and articles on how to reduce the United States’ reliance on incarceration.
"This book’s strength is in its expansiveness, featuring work by academics, policymakers, and incarcerated people examining aspects of excessive punitiveness in the United States. All of the pieces are inviting: some are written in an accessible, friendly, conversational tone; others are more lyrical. But there is definitely something for everyone. This is a one-stop shop of critical and radical perspectives on the criminal justice system."
--Hadar Aviram, author, The Legal Promise and the Process of Justice