How To Reduce The Ballooning U.S. Prison Population? Start With Prosecutors, Author Says

In her new book, Emily Bazelon argues that prosecutors have become too powerful — to the detriment of our criminal justice system.
"Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration," by Emily Bazelon. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

The number of people incarcerated in the U.S. has quintupled since the 1980s. In 2016, it was about 2.2 million people, a figure cited in the new book “Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration.”

The U.S. imprisons people at nine times the rate of Germany. Author Emily Bazelon writes America’s embrace of mass incarceration may soon “come to seem nearly as shameful as slavery does now.”

Bazelon levels several charges at those who charge people: prosecutors.

“Most people go into this work thinking they are good people with high ethical standards, trying to do the best they can,” she tells Here & Now‘s Robin Young. “It’s just that a lot of them are operating in offices where the way you get rewarded is by winning big convictions and winning long sentences. So it’s a systemic problem.”

Bazelon, also a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine and a fellow at Yale Law School, writes many prosecutors have “tunnel vision.” They see the job as a stepping stone to higher political office, which causes them to prosecute more aggressively.

“That conception is that in order to be the [district attorney], you have to be tough on crime,” she says. “If that’s our conception of the district attorney, then the way in which this then becomes a stepping stone to higher office is going to lead to more incarceration, rather than a system that’s fairer and that can start to cut back on these

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