From the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist: a pathbreaking examination of our huge crime and incarceration problem that looks at the influence of the family--specifically one Oregon family with a generations-long legacy of lawlessness.
The United States currently holds the distinction of housing nearly one-quarter of the world's prison population. But our reliance on mass incarceration, Fox Butterfield argues, misses the intractable reality: As few as 5 percent of families account for half of all crime, and only 10 percent account for two-thirds. In introducing us to the Bogle family, the author invites us to understand crime in this eye-opening new light. He chronicles the malignant legacy of criminality passed from parents to children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. Examining the long history of the Bogles, a white family, Butterfield offers a revelatory look at criminality that forces us to disentangle race from our ideas about crime and, in doing so, strikes at the heart of our deepest stereotypes. And he makes clear how these new insights are leading to fundamentally different efforts at reform. With his empathic insight and profound knowledge of criminology, Butterfield offers us both the indelible tale of one family's transgressions and tribulations, and an entirely new way to understand crime in America.
Butterfield (All God's Children: The Bosket Family and the American Tradition of Violence), a Pulitzer Prize winner, uses one family, the Bogles, to explore American criminality. Butterfield identified 60 Bogles, starting in the 1920s, "who have been sentenced to either prison, jail, or a juvenile reformatory, or placed on probation or parole." His numerous interviews over a decade with members of the family put an all-too-human face on criminological studies that conclude that "as little as 5 percent of families account for half of all crime, and that 10 percent of families account for two-thirds of all crime" in the U.S. The influences of genetics and family have not been central for most recent criminologists, and Butterfield seeks to reintroduce them, purposely choosing a Caucasian family to "remov race as a factor in the discussion." Without sugarcoating or excusing their crimes, Butterfield writes empathically about his subjects, as in his depiction of Tracey Bogle, convicted of kidnapping, sodomy, and assault, who fondly recalls growing up copying the behavior of his father, Rooster, who "took his children out to commit crimes with him." Butterfield convincingly argues that mass incarceration becomes a vicious cycle in this insightful and moving group biography.