SICK JUSTICE: Inside the American Gulag by Ivan G. Goldman. Publisher: Potomac Books/University of Nebraska Press (2013). Nonfiction. Cloth. 256 pages. ISBN 978-1-61234-487-4.
If you’re like me, you may already doubt the U.S. justice system after reading, hearing or watching cases such as George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin, O.J. Simpson, The West Memphis Three and The Central Park Five. Or like me you’ve had your own experiences with the ineptitude or inequities of the legal system. 2.3 million people are incarcerated in the United States. That’s big business. After I’d watched The Central Park Five documentary and been discussing it on Twitter, an author friend told me I should read this book. Author Ivan Goldman thoroughly researched our criminal justice system– visited several prisons, interviewed inmates and included details about little known cases and well-known cases such as Boston mob boss Whitey Bulger and the West Memphis Three.
Goldman explains the brutally ridiculous and unfair mandatory minimum drug sentences, three-strikes laws, punishing nonviolent first-time offenders, the ineffective war on drugs, closing mental health institutions around the country and how that pushes the mentally ill to seek other treatment for their illnesses. He also reveals the big money business in private prisons and bureaucracies running prisons that don’t want to see anything change. Egregious injustices occur when those accused lack money or power. It’s angering, disturbing, eye-opening and a difficult read [meaning you might need to put it down from time to time to reflect].
Some compelling points from the book:
–“one in thirty-one U.S. adults in jail, prison, or on parole, according to a 2009 report from the respected Pew Center on the States.”
–“The National Employment Law Project found that 90 percent of employers check potential employees for criminal backgrounds. More than two-thirds of the states allow hiring and professional-licensing decisions to be made on the basis of an arrest alone; no conviction is necessary. By age twenty-three, 30 percent of Americans have been arrested; this number was 22 percent in 1967.”
–“The New York Innocence Project fond that in more than 15 percent of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing, an informant or jailhouse snitch had testified against his defendant.”
–“In June 2011 The Global Commission on Drug Policy, a high-powered group of former world-leaders, including former United Nations (UN) secretary-general Kofi Annan and past presidents of Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia, issued a report that concluded the global war on drugs has been a disastrous failure that foments violence and doesn’t curtail drug use.”
–“Wackenhut is a private security firm that was renamed the GEO Group in 2003. As the GEO Group, it currently runs lockups in fourteen states and is a component of British-based G4S, the world’s largest security company.”
–“The National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors estimated that in 2008-11 states cut $3.4 billion in mental health services, while an additional 400,000 people sought help at mental health facilities.”
–“In January 2004 the Sentencing Project estimated that a black man had a one-in-three chance of serving time in prison at some point in his life.”
–“The practice of stop-and-frisk rests on a 1968 decision that established the benchmark of ‘reasonable suspicion’—a standard lower than the ‘probable cause’ benchmark used previously.
From 2004-2009, New York City police officers stopped people and checked them out three million times. “Nearly 90 percent of the people stopped were completely innocent of any wrongdoing.” Crime was going down and the number of people stopped and frisked during this time period went up.
–“In 2007 Texas began place more low-risk, nonviolent offenders on probation or freeing them on parole. It also started providing treatment to inmates suffering from drug and alcohol addiction or mental health problems.”
–“Convicts who maintain contact with family and friends in the outside world are less likely to be convicted of additional crimes and usually have an easier reintegration back into society, yet the clumsy federal system still incarcerates inmates far from home.”
–“Up to 60 percent of ex-convicts in New York State are still unemployed after release, according to a study from the Independent Committee on Reentry and Employment.”
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Potomac Books.