"A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."
Winston Churchill coined this phrase in 1939 to describe Russia. It became widely known during the Cold War.
Could it be applied to America's prison boom? For there is a mysterious element to how the U.S., in only one generation, become an international outlier on incarceration rates.
To be sure, there are many reasons for the unprecedented increase in inmates.Two years ago, a special issue of Daedalus on mass incarceration probed them in considerable depth.
The irrationality of America's entire epic jailing exercise, however, cannot be denied. To paraphrase Churchill, American mass incarceration is a riddle wrapped in a bitter irony. The nation that says it loves liberty so much takes so much of it away from its own citizens.