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A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America [Hardcover]

Ernest Drucker


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Book Description

Aug. 30 2011
When Dr. John Snow first traced an outbreak of cholera to a water pump in the Soho district of London in 1854, the field of epidemiology was born. Taking the same public health approaches and tools that have successfully tracked epidemics of flu, tuberculosis, and AIDS over the intervening one hundred and fifty years, Ernest Drucker makes the case that our current unprecedented level of imprisonment has become an epidemic—a plague upon our body politic.

Drucker, an internationally recognized public health scholar and Soros Justice Fellow, spent twenty years treating drug addiction and another twenty studying AIDS in some of the poorest neighborhoods of the South Bronx and worldwide. He
compares mass incarceration to other, well-recognized epidemics using basic public health concepts: “prevalence and incidence,” “outbreaks,” “contagion,” “transmission,” and “potential years of life lost.”

He argues that imprisonment—originally conceived as a response to individuals’ crimes—has become mass incarceration: a destabilizing force that undermines the families and communities it targets, damaging the very social structures that prevent crime.

Sure to provoke debate, this book shifts the paradigm of how we think about punishment by demonstrating that our unprecedented rates of incarceration have the contagious and self-perpetuating features of the plagues of previous centuries.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: New Press, The (Aug. 30 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595584978
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595584977
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 16.1 x 2.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 408 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #348,551 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

Ernest Drucker has added a new voice to the debate about prisons and provided a previously missing but enormously valuable scientific perspective. The book is both wonderfully written and packed with insight. People who already think they know a lot about the problem of mass incarceration will learn from this book, and people who don't know much about it will get everything they need to know.
—Todd Clear, Dean of the Rutgers University School of Criminal Justice

A towering achievement, A Plague of Prisons does something rare and valuable: it provides a new way of looking at, thinking about, and analyzing old and familiar data, thereby creating fresh insights into and understanding of a social catastrophe.
—Ira Glasser, Former Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union

Drucker brings the tools of epidemiology, the informed perspective of a social critic, and the graceful language of a natural writer to illuminate the plague of incarceration that is crippling poor and primarily minority urban communities, and to make a clear, cogent call for reform.
—Jamie Fellner, Senior Advisor, U.S. Program, Human Rights Watch

A seminal book by a truly gifted scholar. Read and weep and then pass along this important work to everyone who has a stake in reforming the contemporary U.S. criminal justice system—which is to say, all of us.
—Stephen Flynn, Ph.D., President, Center for National Policy

A careful, colorful, and much needed examination of the causes and consequences of the epidemic of incarceration in the United States with enormous relevance for anyone concerned about public health, criminal justice, and public policy.
—Jim Curran, Dean, Rollins School of Public Health and Co-Director, Emory Center for AIDS Research

Ernie Drucker has long been a leader in new ways of thinking about issues of crime and drugs. He’s helped us to imagine a true public health approach to these problems.
—Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project and author of Race to Incarcerate

About the Author

Ernest Drucker is a scholar in residence and senior research associate at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York. He is professor emeritus of family and social medicine at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine and adjunct professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. He is an NIH-funded researcher, editor-in-chief of the international Harm Reduction Journal, a Fulbright Senior Specialist in Global Health, and a Soros Justice Fellow. He is also a founder and former chairman of Doctors of the World/USA. He lives in New York City.

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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New and Challenging Perspective on Incarceration in America Oct. 8 2011
By GLFilerman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book will leave you informed, angry, frustrated and challenged. Drucker provides an overview of the social,political,economic and public health context of incarceration in America. At the same time he demonstrates how the science, art, and application of epidemiology provides understanding the drivers of this plague on our society and how it can be reduced, if not reversed. One of the many strengths of the book is how he draws upon recent research to support his case and challenge. It is a must read for policy makers as well as students of law, public health and all of the other professions that work in the field. It is an important contribution.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scientific truth Dec 21 2012
By Nagy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In a unique analysis of the mass incarceration in America, Ernest Drucker's A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America provides scientific reasons that mass incarceration is more destructive than Cholera or AIDS or any other deadly diseases in the history of human. Drucker, a long time epidemiologist, argued that prisons have been a real danger to the public heath since the 1970s when the "War on Drugs" started. He argues that, to find cure to the disease of mass incarceration, "we must control the toxic agent, the prison itself."

Just like one of the greatest movies, in the first few chapters, Drucker used the historical events to illustrate the scientific way to track sources of diseases and mapping the places and the best way to eliminate the spread of such ..... of the sinking Titanic, the outbreak of the cholera in London and how the outbreaks and public health responses, and on (human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome) illustrate basic epidemiological method--mapping outbreaks, tracing vectors, identifying the demography of the afflicted--in the interest of preventing disease transmission.

Later in the book, Drucker illustrated the specific health costs of incarceration in the wake of New York's highly punitive Rockefeller drug laws in 1973. Using empirical data to prove his argument, he used the public health concepts of "years of life lost" and "disability-adjusted life years," measurements that epidemiologists use to quantify the relative magnitude of disasters. He showed that blacks and minorities who live in poor neighborhoods have developed chronic diseases which means, he argues, the drug laws are public health threat. Simply put, he concluded that year of life lost to drug laws are "three times greater than those lost in the September 11, 2001, World Trade Center attacks."
Finally, Drucker identified that there are solutions to such disaster, giving the example of how the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War helped convert public view of nuclear weapons to a global threat. A Plague of Prisons' is a joint venture that conveys an important message that scientists, scholars and civil rights advocates must work together to show the total impact of mass incarceration in our society.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading March 11 2013
By Bobbo - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is an informed book on the folly of U.S. criminal justice laws and health care policies and practices. The narrative is beautifully crafted and is compelling for a wide audience. The book should be required reading for public health and criminal justice students and professionals. Every public policy maker should have a copy on his or her desk.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Analysis of a National Disaster Oct. 19 2013
By Norman A. Pattis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Sending folks off to prison is a sad reality for criminal defense lawyers. From the well of the court, these voyages are always cast as morality plays, dramas in which the defendant is accused of transgressing some social, and perhaps also some moral, code. Holding the defendant "accountable" is the rhetorical move prosecutors and judges rely upon to imprison.

But the rhetoric of punishment rings hollow. Something more is going on. We send so many folks to prison, and often for such trifling reasons. Things have reached a point in which it makes sense to speak of mass incarceration. Is this best thought of as an epidemic?

Ernest Drucker thinks so. He brings the skills of an epidemiologist to bear on why, with five percent of the world's population, the United States incarcerates 25 percent of the world's prisoners. His answer is simple: the war on drugs accounts for the explosive growth during the past forty years of the prison population.

The statistics are familiar enough. Young black men, young Hispanic men, face a far greater chance of landing in prison than to their white counterparts, and usually for drug offenses. We build prisons at an astonishing rate. Some 2.5 million Americans are currently behind bars. Millions more are on probation.

Drucker's brief work supports from a novel perspective the need for reform of drug laws. We need treatment, not prison; legalization, not the creation of an incarcerated nation.

This is a well-written and even entertaining book about a depressing subject. I was dubious about whether Drucker could pull the analysis off. He did, but, I suspect, I was an easy cell. Mass incarceration is a national disaster.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great work March 22 2013
By Nether - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
This book displays yet another reason why we have a major incarceration problem in the US that is mostly attributed to the failed drug war

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