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

AuthorIglesias, Michelle
PositionBook review

Pfaff, John F. Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform. New York: Basic Books, 2017. viii + 311 pages. Hardcover, $27.99.

John F. Pfaff's new book, Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform (2017), proffers an understanding of why the ruling narrative on mass incarceration reform breaks down under scrutiny before offering theoretical solutions for research on and advocacy for reform options. Relying on an analysis of multiple sources of secondary data, and on his experience as a criminal law professor and researcher, Pfaff outlines three major points of what he has coined the "standard story" of the historical and current reform efforts. From there he provides an analysis of why these major arcs are failing to make greater strides to reduce incarceration statistics in the current reform movement.

In distilling the plot lines of the "standard story," Pfaff looks at the rhetoric of the war on drugs, disparities in prison sentencing and maximum sentencing guidelines, and the debates assigning blame to private prisons for increased incarceration numbers. With a heavy use of statistics from sources such as the National Research Council, the Bureau of Justice, and a plethora of academic sources that precede his, Pfaff argues that the "standard story" misses swaths of nuances that are contributing more to incarceration statistics than could be solved by decriminalizing drugs, reducing sentencing maximums, and abolishing private prisons. His interpretation of the available data shows that reform efforts based on this traditional reform narrative have not and will not provide large reductions in incarceration rates. He also does a good job of laying out the ways in which many nuances and elements contribute to the rate of incarceration, which are ignored in this "standard story."

His dissections of these major points provide the basis for his argument that true reform will require studying and better understanding incarceration admissions and prosecutorial conduct. Reform movements historically focusing on length of prison stay and sentencing guidelines have not impacted incarceration levels as had been anticipated. Pfaff notes that a shift in focus from the power of policy making to the acts carried forth from such policies may be key in understanding incarceration rates. After all, it is the implementation of legislation at local, state, and federal levels that truly...

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