Cover: Prisoners of Politics: Breaking the Cycle of Mass Incarceration, from Harvard University PressCover: Prisoners of Politics in HARDCOVER

Prisoners of Politics

Breaking the Cycle of Mass Incarceration

“If you care, as I do, about disrupting the perverse politics of criminal justice, there is no better place to start than Prisoners of Politics.”—James Forman, Jr., author of Locking Up Our Own

The United States has the world’s highest rate of incarceration, a form of punishment that ruins lives and makes a return to prison more likely. As awful as that truth is for individuals and their families, its social consequences—recycling offenders through an overwhelmed criminal justice system, ever-mounting costs, unequal treatment before the law, and a growing class of permanently criminalized citizens—are even more devastating. With the authority of a prominent legal scholar and the practical insights gained through on-the-ground work on criminal justice reform, Rachel Barkow explains how dangerous it is to base criminal justice policy on the whims of the electorate, which puts judges, sheriffs, and politicians in office. Instead, she argues for an institutional shift toward data and expertise, following the model used to set food and workplace safety rules.

Barkow’s prescriptions are rooted in a thorough and refreshingly ideology-free cost–benefit analysis of how to cut mass incarceration while maintaining public safety. She points to specific policies that are deeply problematic on moral grounds and have failed to end the cycle of recidivism. Her concrete proposals draw on the best empirical information available to prevent crime and improve the reentry of former prisoners into society.

Prisoners of Politics aims to free criminal justice policy from the political arena, where it has repeatedly fallen prey to irrational fears and personal interest, and demonstrates that a few simple changes could make us all safer.

Recent News

Black lives matter. Black voices matter. A statement from HUP »

From Our Blog

Photograph of Lessons from Plants, by Beronda L. Montgomery, from Harvard University Press, placed on sunny table next to leafy green potted plant and desk organizer

What Have We Learned from Plants?

For Beronda L. Montgomery, the author of Lessons from Plants, the undisturbed growth of plants has been a reminder that life moves along, even in the most difficult times. In her new book, Montgomery shows how plant behavior and adaptation can offer valuable insights for human thriving. Her recent article in Elle on how plants have been a beacon of hope for her and many others during the pandemic inspired us at Harvard University Press to think about how plants have also helped us during this past year of working from home