Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker favorably reviews John Pfaff’s book on the causes of and cures for mass incarceration, “Locked In.” The book was discussed in previous posts on this blog; Gopnik reiterates the central thesis, that the cause is not mandatory minimums, the war on drugs, or drug convictions in general: its the prosecutors.
“So what makes for the madness of American incarceration? If it isn’t crazy drug laws or outrageous sentences or profit-seeking prison keepers, what is it? Pfaff has a simple explanation: it’s prosecutors. They are political creatures, who get political rewards for locking people up and almost unlimited power to do it.”
One statistic among many, from “Locked In”: While violent crime was increasing by a hundred per cent between 1970 and 1990, the number of “line” prosecutors rose by only seventeen per cent. But between 1990 and 2007, while the crime rate began to fall, the number of line prosecutors went up by fifty per cent, and the number of prisoners rose with it. Its the central paradox of mass incarceration: fewer crimes, more criminals; less wrongdoing to imprison people for, more people imprisoned.