In her new book, Prisoners of Politics: Breaking the Cycle of Mass Incarceration, Professor Rachel Elise Barkow argues that the key problems with our criminal justice system are largely institutional and flow from a failure to properly understand–and constrain–the incentives that drive us toward ineffective policies of overcriminalization and mass incarceration. According to Barkow, our collective desire to punish wrongdoing through our criminal justice system too often outweighs the data that suggest better ways to improve public safety and reduce criminal recidivism. She proposes a fresh approach that includes greater oversight for prosecutors and others who wield vast discretion within the system, along with new expert bodies to collect and analyze data to formulate evidence-based crime policy and insulate policymakers from the populist whims that too often result in punitive laws and long sentences. In these and other ways, Barkow presents arguments for how our criminal justice system could reduce crime, provide justice, and roll back mass incarceration all at the same time.

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