Book Review:

Race to Incarcerate

By Mujaddid, R. Muhammad, Prisoner of the Drug War


Dozens of writers, reformists and activists have already narrated the story of America's harrowing prison epidemic spread wide by the politics of corporate greed and fueled daily by scapegoating the poor and vulnerable. With nearly twenty years experience in public policy development, criminal justice reform, and promoting alternatives to confinement, now comes Marc Mauer, Assistant Director of The Sentencing Project, a national organization based in Washington, D.C. which advocates for substantial changes in our ways of punishing criminal behavior.

Race To Incarcerate is the best book I have read on the subject because it provides a comprehensive analysis of the subtleties in America's preoccupation with incarceration. Blowing aside official propaganda, Mr. Mauer confidently removes the facade of deception and meticulously shows how America has gone from a prison population of almost 200,000 in 1972 to nearly two million in 1999.

This book unveils political opportunism. Recognize it when you see it. It entails expediency­­seizing an opportunity at the expense of truth, justice, principles or morality. Numerous illustrations are available; however, for the sake of space, the few which follow may illustrate the dilemma we face.

USA Today reported (Feb. 17, 1999) more than 1000 crime bills were introduced in the last Congress because law-makers didn't want to appear "soft on crime." Between 1991 and 1998 gun lobbyists spent $9 million to influence federal elections, with 74% going to Republicans.

The Center for Responsive Politics reports that gun-lobby contributions to Senators voting against mandatory background checks at gun shows averaged $10,500; while those who supported the checks received $300.

Lastly, Mr. Mauer notes that during the 1992 New Hampshire Primary candidate Clinton flew home to Arkansas to oversee the execution of a mentally impaired black man who had so little conception of what was about to happen to him that he asked that dessert from his last meal be saved for him until the morning.

Following the execution Clinton was quoted as stating, "I can be nicked on a lot, but no one can say I'm 'soft on crime'." Is there a more ghoulish form of opportunism than gathering in votes by supporting state murder of the sick and wounded?

The most startling, important aspect of this book are the overtones echoing the theme characterized as the "Dumbing-Down of America." This concept postulates that as a result of the controlling educational system, compliant media and repressive socialization process, Americans have been conditioned over generations into silence, apathy and ignorance of public matters over which our elected offcials preside.

This "Dumbing-Down" process has produced unchecked authority in government. Officials may govern with impunity and immunity because "We The People" lack the comprehension, discernment, analytical skills and political experience which enables ordinary people to challenge a tyrannical government.

Race To Incarcerate spawns many probing questions which free-thinking people should ask themselves. Questions such as: "What are the yardsticks by which the taxpayer measures or validates leadership or political representation? What are the criteria by which we must judge the veracity or goodness of sound public policy?" In his closing thoughts Mr. Mauer offers this reflection: "A healthy society should do all it can to provide healing to those who have been harmed by crime while providing decent conditions to those who are imprisoned, the vast majority of whom will return to our communities some day."

In the race to incarcerate, under the guise of code words such as "tough on crime," "zero tolerance," "truth in sentencing," the poor people have been targeted as the new industrial commodity for the 21st Century. Granted, today it is us; tomorrow, it may be you.

Will you help now to stop the senseless race to incarcerate, or will you wait until they come for you or someone you love?

UP! You sleeping giants, we can accomplish whatever we WILL!

Race To Incarcerate - By Marc Mauer
The Sentencing Project, The New Press, $22.95