Ernest Drucker, a public health scholar, professor and physician, contends that mass incarceration ought to be understood as a contagious disease, an epidemic of gargantuan proportions, writes reviewer Michelle Alexander in the Washington Post. With voluminous data and meticulous analysis, he demonstrates in his provocative new book, “A Plague of Prisons,” that the unprecedented surge in incarceration is a social catastrophe on the scale of the worst global epidemics, and that modes of analysis employed by epidemiologists to combat plagues and similar public health crises are remarkably useful when assessing the origins, harm, and potential cures.
Alexander also reviews “The Collapse of American Criminal Justice,” by the late Harvard law Prof. William Stuntz, who argues that the stunning surge in imprisonment of poor people of color can be explained by two factors: a dramatic spike in crime in the 1950s and '60s, coupled with profound changes in how our democracy is structured. Urban residents, he says, once had far more control over police and prosecutors and could exert more influence in the jury box. When those who bear the costs of crime and punishment exercise significant power over those who enforce the law, a more balanced and empathetic approach to crime is the predictable result, he writes.