"Do not underestimate the power of the book you are holding in your hands."
More than 2 million people are now imprisoned in the United States, producing the highest rate of incarceration in the world. How did this happen? As the director of The Sentencing Project, Marc Mauer has long been one of the country’s foremost experts on sentencing policy, race, and the criminal justice system. His book Race to Incarcerate has become the essential text for understanding the exponential growth of the U.S. prison system; Michelle Alexander, author of the bestselling The New Jim Crow, calls it "utterly indispensable." Now, Sabrina Jones, a member of the World War 3 Illustrated collective and an acclaimed author of politically engaged comics, has collaborated with Mauer to adapt and update the original book into a vivid and compelling comics narrative. Jones's dramatic artwork adds passion and compassion to the complex story of the penal system’s shift from rehabilitation to punishment and the ensuing four decades of prison expansion, its interplay with the devastating "War on Drugs," and its corrosive effect on generations of Americans.
With a preface by Mauer and a foreword by Alexander, Race to Incarcerate: A Graphic Retelling presents a compelling argument about mass incarceration’s tragic impact on communities of color—if current trends continue, one of every three black males and one of every six Latino males born today can expect to do time in prison. The race to incarcerate is not only a failed social policy, but also one that prevents a just, diverse society from flourishing.
In recent years, Mauer, the assistant director of the Sentencing Project in Washington, D.C., has raised one of the few voices in the media decrying the explosive increase in the U.S. prison population, and especially the high percentages of incarcerated young black men. In this sober, nuanced analysis, he assesses how we have come to lock up offenders "at a rate 6 to 10 times that of most comparable countries"--a rate that represents a 500% increase since 1972. Meanwhile, "about the best that can be said is that crime rates in some categories are no worse than they were when only one sixth as many inmates filled the nation's prisons." The major culprits for the expanded rolls, he contends, are mandatory sentencing statues and the "war on drugs" that began in the early '80s. Yet the evidence is too murky to prove that increased incarceration leads to a lowered crime rate, Mauer argues. With some crimes, notably drug peddling, offenders are often "replaced" on the streets, since "a thriving market exists with the potential for lucrative profits." His policy solutions--jobs, education--might be dismissed as "hopelessly liberal," he acknowledges, but they're what work for the middle class; while they may not fully address the complexities of the underclass, there is evidence that they help. He also argues for increased drug treatment. Pointing out some potent unintended consequences of overcrowded prisons, Mauer cites displaced criminal justice resources, significant African-American disenfranchisement and family disruption (including increased sexual bargaining power for unimprisoned black men, and thus more illegitimacy).