Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mass Incarceration as a Contagious Disease

Apocalyptic imagery, to my mind, is entirely appropriate as a way to describe the state of our criminal justice system. I’ve use my share of it, over the years, in this blog.

A bloated Leviathan.

A colossal uncharted labyrinth.

Pick an over-the-top image, and it can be made to apply to a system in which seven million citizens sit in jail or prison — a number vastly disproportionate to anywhere else in the developed world.

So I was scarcely surprised by the titles of the two books recently reviewed by Michelle Alexander in the Washington Post. A plague of prisons arguably does point to some sort of collapse of the American criminal justice system. In pulblic health terms, mass incarceratoin is indeed like a contagious disease.

As a character in Camus' The Plague observes, "We've all got the plague." We all have it because we all live in this society that created it and continues to perpetuate it.

Budget constraints, and perhaps sheer exhaustion, are finally starting to partially contain the contagion. What will take its place, when the paradigm shifts?

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