Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America — James Forman Jr.
- Forman takes readers on a journey into the heart of Black America by using Washington DC as a case study to understand how a majority black jurisdiction ended up incarcerating so many of its own. This delicate question is answered with grace as Forman traces the development of a phenomena he labels ‘politics of responsibility’. Starting in the 70’s prominent Black leaders in DC lobbied for more punitive measures to fight drug dealing and gun violence without realizing their real-time responses to crime would result in the monolithic force of mass incarceration. Black leaders in DC didn’t ignore the epidemic of black-on-black violence, as critics of BlackLivesMatter often argue, but instead ferociously confronted the issue with the pre-existing legal tools at their disposal. Forman also highlights the role Eric Holder, then DC District Attorney, played in escalating and exasperating the incarceration crisis with his initiative to increase the use of pretext stops to root out drugs and violence in the community. Pretext stops gave cops wide latitude to stop cars and search them for guns, which effectively green-lighted racial profiling as an acceptable police tactic. Locking Up Our Own is a seminal work in the post-Obama era that will change how one views the forces that have shaped mass incarceration. As Forman writes, “Our system never treated the failure of prison as a reason not to try more prison.”
Dreams from the Monster Factory: A Tale of Prison, Redemption, and One Woman’s Fight to Restore Justice to All — Sunny Schwartz
- The blueprint for the future of prisons is contained in this book. Schwartz’s unflinching me against the world attitude comes through with every page as she aims to take on the monster factories that produce & reproduce unrepentant convicts. Schwartz challenged the status quo in San Francisco jails of letting inmates sit around idly as a way to ‘do their time’. Instead she revolutionized the use of restorative justice to get criminals to accept accountability and develop empathy by learning to talk about their feelings. ‘Hurt people hurt people’ is the foundation of Schwartz’s work as she seeks to dive deep into the criminal mind to get them to reevaluate life decisions. Schwartz gathered the most violent offenders, put them in one dorm, and worked them through 12 hours of programs everyday. The results are staggering. Men who have committed horrible, unthinkable crimes come together and use the restorative justice model to confront their internal male role model system and dismantle their violent tendencies. Schwartz weaves in her personal issues to help the reader come to the omnipotent conclusion that perhaps we all have monsters inside of us. Humans don’t belong in cages, but monsters do. But not all monsters have to be that way for the rest of their lives.
Smart on Crime — Kamala Harris
- Kamala Harris relies on her experience as a career prosecutor to outline thoughtful solutions to addressing the age old problem of criminality. Harris understands the root causes of crime are inadequately addressed by solely relying on incarceration. While DA in San Francisco Harris created programs that targeted truancy rates as an early intervention approach to help kids get back on the right track. Harris joined the DA’s office to reform it from inside, a noble position given that most choose to critique from the outside instead of actually doing anything to change the system. Harris argues that crime isn’t a partisan issue, everyone wants to feel safe walking home or commuting on public transit to work. Feeling secure is a civil and human right to Harris and she is willing to fight to make sure everyone has this warm feeling at all times. This book is concise, direct, and reads more like a textbook than a novel. This blogger also agrees with Obama that Harris is a truly stunning woman, both intellectually and appearance wise.
A Colony in a Nation — Chris Hayes
- Hayes convincingly argues that the US has fractured into two separate entities: A colony for people of color, and a nation for the hegemonic white class. Hayes paints a picture of the parallel circumstances of the colonists in the late 18th century fighting British oppression and the current plight of poor people of color in society. This book builds on Frantz Fanon’s work The Wretched of the Earth to understand the dynamics of internal colonialism. The central premise that it’s inherently incompatible and unsustainable to have a colony inside a nation produces some grim and uneasy feelings. It’s even more horrifying to realize that we created this internal colony using democratic means. The implications for the criminal justice system are profound and illustrates how easy it is to divide and conquer — just as the settlers did to the indigenous tribes of North America in the 16th and 17th centuries.
City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles — Kelly Lytle Hernandez
- History teaches us that mass incarceration is mass elimination and UCLA Professor Kelly Hernandez takes up this point using Los Angeles as an example of the dangerous potential for locking up whole classes of people. Los Angeles incarcerates more people than any other city in a country that incarcerates more people than any other place on earth. Hernandez uncovers two centuries of history about native elimination, immigrant exclusion and black disappearance that drove the force of mass incarceration in Los Angeles. This work spans from Spanish colonialism to the Watts riots of 1965 to illuminate how deeply woven incarceration is into the fabric of the city of Angels. City of Inmates also demonstrates how the oppressed resisted the oppressors, culminating in the 1965 riot that set the city on fire. Some may think that mass incarceration as we know it sprouted up in the 1970’s during the War on Drugs, but this book provides a deeper, more accurate portrayal of the history of mass incarceration. A must read for anyone who grew up in Los Angeles.
The Contradictions of American Capital Punishment — Franklin Zimring
- Franklin Zimring, quite likely the most foremost criminologist in the world and this blogger’s favorite professor at UC Berkeley, writes persuasively about the continued reliance on capital punishment despite global trends away from the practice. Zimring theorizes that the debate over capital punishment is indicative of a long standing division over American values, but believes ultimately that abolishment is on the horizon. The death penalty seems to violate our most esteemed legal principles of Due Process and fairness. Our continued use sets us apart from global allies as most European nations see capital punishment as barbaric and an appalling aspect of American exceptionalism. But the death penalty also seems to hold some sort of nostalgic value in violent social justice that views the executioner as the agent of local control and community safety. Zimring unearths that the most troubling symptom of the attraction to vigilante justice is the lynch mob by showing that the majority of executions in recent decades have occurred in precisely the Southern States where lynchings were most common a hundred years ago. This legacy underscores the appeal of the death penalty and provides one of the most convincing reasons for abolishing it. Readers will come away with a better appreciation of the history of capital punishment and how closely entwined the institution is with lynch mobs.