Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform

By John Pfaff

Pfaff’s work is a wonderful piece of policy analysis disguised as a pretty damn good book. Pfaff spends his first few chapters telling the reader why she’s wrong: our current mass incarceration epidemic is not caused by what you think (the war on drugs, longer prison sentences, etc.). After dashing your understanding of the criminal justice system to bits Pfaff presents his own: it is the rampant (in)discretion of public prosecutors that has ruined us. A scathing description of the systematic inadequacies of the criminal justice bureaucracies follows.

Pfaff does a great job backing his assertions with easily accessible empirical evidence, and admitting when he makes a claim that’s based on his gut instead of data. Although I found some of his policy suggestions near the end of the book frivolous (yes, changing the public’s mind about the proper punishment of sex offenders would be great; so would ice cream that’s good for you, but I’m not putting my research money in that field), they were nevertheless interesting, and if they prompt readers to consider out-of-the-box solutions then perhaps they will evolve into good policy. Overall, though I read this book for my Philosophy of Criminal Law class, I would read it again for a policy class, and again for a criminal justice one. It is worth the time.