Loury, Butler, Thompson On Racial Disparities In Justice System


Three new books by black scholars eloquently attest to broader effects of the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, says David Cole in the New York Review of Books. For Glenn Loury, “mass incarceration has now become a principal vehicle for the reproduction of racial hierarchy in our society.” For George Washington University law Prof. Paul Butler (Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice), “the two million Americans in prison represent the most urgent challenge to democratic values since the civil rights era.” For New York University law Prof. Anthony Thompson (Releasing Prisoners, Redeeming Communities: Reentry, Race, and Politics), it is critical that we examine “the pervasive interplay of race, power, and politics that infuse and confuse our attitudes about crime.”

Thompson proposes a variety of sensible reforms–eliminating laws that irrationally bar ex-offenders from jobs and housing, providing health care and counseling to help smooth the transition back to life outside of prison. Butler offers a broader set of proposals, such as treating drugs as a public health issue and offering economic incentives to encourage young people to stay in school. Concludes reviewer Cole: “Our addiction to punishment should be troubling not only because it is costly and often counterproductive, but because its race and class disparities are morally unacceptable. The most promising arguments for reform, therefore, must appeal simultaneously to considerations of pragmatism and principle.”

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