Book Review: Locked in: The true causes of mass incarceration and how to achieve real reform

Published date01 March 2021
Date01 March 2021
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Loyola University New Orleans was tasked with bringing national experts and practitioners
together. These national experts and practitioners were to engage in discussions while sharing best
practices that may be directed toward addressing lethality. This book is the result of a 2-day
conference, which was entitled Preventing Lethal Violence in New Orleans.
The anthology approach contained in this book with each chapter discussing a different topic
written by diverse authors supports important and key strengths. The nine different presentations are
designed to help alleviate lethality experienced in certain specific areas of New Orleans. If you view
New Orleans as a proxy for other areas, the presentations contained herein could provide avenues
toward lethality solutions. Each significant, worthy, well written, and important presentation con-
tained herein could produce a resolution or approach to a solution concerning lethality. Attention
should be paid to every chapter of the book: Preventing Lethal Violence in New Orleans, A Great
American City.
Pfaff, J. F. (2017).
Locked in: The true causes of mass incarceration and how to achieve real reform. New York, NY: Basic Books.
311 pp. $17.49, ISBN 978-046-509-16.
Reviewed by: Bob Costello, Nassau Community College, Garden City, NY, USA
DOI: 10.1177/0734016817710694
The statistical facts about incarceration in the United States are indisputable. The systemic causes
for the daunting statistics have become so ingrained in our conversations that they were deemed the
definitive reasons for mass incarceration. Pfaff utilizes his legal education along with his doctorate
in a social science (economics) to produce a quality of work that is a “must read.”
Pfaff’s motivation for writing this book is to
highlight the mistakes and shortcomings of the standard story; to point out the more important, but
generally underappreciated, causes of prison growth; and to suggest a set of reforms that are more likely
to yield durable change, but that so far seem to be all too absent from reform conversations. (p. 5)
Pfaff explores in Part I the conventionalized wisdom about prison growth dubbed “the standard
story.” Part II explores the “new narrative” contrasting reasons for prison growth beyond the
standard story that suggest a different path to needed reforms.
The standard story consistently highlights “shocking” statistics that are not as important as we
think in solving the prisons problem in America. For example, the idea of locking up lower level
drug offender through the War on Drugs caused the spike in incarceration. In reality, only about 16%
of state prisoners are serving time on drug charges, with only about 5%be both low-level drug
offenders and nonviolent (p. 6). Thus, legalizing drugs would not have the impact on the prison
population as much as the standard story suggests.
The standard story cites the long prison sentences as a main cause for the size of our prison
population. While it is true our sentences are long when compared to international standards, Pfaff
argues most inmates serve short stints in prison from 1 to 3 years that has not changed throughout the
last three decades. Rather, he proposes a reason for the explosion in the prison population is the
increased rate at which people get sentenced to prison in the first place (p. 6).
Book Reviews 121

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