Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 36

WORTH READING

HOW PROSECUTORIAL ABUSE
DRIVES MASS INCARCERATION
Review by Ronald Goldfarb

D

espite a U.S. Sentencing Commission decision in 2014 to reduce
sentences for drug crimes and a decline in overall crime rate,
the country still holds the record for the largest incarcerated
population in the world. Countless books and articles have
been written on our obviously flawed criminal justice system,
but a new work offers what the others lack: hope. In Charged:
The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End
Mass Incarceration, journalist and legal scholar Emily Bazelon not
only explains an overlooked cause of mass imprisonment but
also offers solutions.

Courtesy of Random House

Bazelon takes a reader-friendly approach to
explaining breakdowns in the criminal justice
system. Employing a storytelling technique, Bazelon
follows two young defendants - Kevin and Noura
- laying out their backgrounds and the chain of
events that brought them into the system (on a
weapons and murder charge, respectively). Bazelon
describes their arrests, bail and pretrial detentions,
and trials, which are rare, as the overwhelming
majority of criminal cases are plea bargained. While
alternating between the micro stories of two typical
cases, Bazelon explains the macro problems they
reflect. She notes the vagaries of the appellate
process; the arbitrary, punitive, expensive, and often
self-defeating prison system; and the ineffective
help with treatment and training of underfunded
public, private, and community organizations. It's
not a pleasant ride for readers, and there aren't
many happy endings.
Bazelon's analysis doesn't reveal anything new, but
by describing the background and details of these
two people's cases, she reveals why and how injustices occur. She points to fate, faulty systemic procedures, misunderstood theories of law enforcement
and "correctional" procedures, misinformation
about the system's players (from the defendants to
district attorneys to elected judges), racism, and
even widely accepted but faulty assumptions of
critics and reformers.
According to Bazelon, prosecutorial discretion,
which for the most part determines who gets
36 WASHINGTON LAWYER

*

SEPTEMBER 2019

*

indicted and tried, plays a huge yet overlooked part.
Her reasoning is well developed, giving credence to
her conclusions. She argues that prosecutors have
too much power in affecting the outcomes of
cases, plea bargains being the most troubling and
abused power. How else to explain that more than
85 percent of state and federal criminal convictions
were disposed of by guilty pleas?
Bazelon's case studies may be few, but her book is
an exhaustive, panoramic review of our criminal
justice system. "[It] is ungainly and massive . . . a
behemoth, at once mighty and monstrous . . . the
balance of power between the prosecution, the
defense, and the judiciary shifted. We have to
readjust it," she writes.
Because of overstepping, misconduct, or inattention by police, legislators, probation and parole
officers, lawmakers, defense lawyers, and prison
personnel, "often the process itself was the punishment," Bazelon says. She pleads that we don't leave
reform to the professionals alone but also rely on
citizens who can elect reform-minded prosecutors.

Ronald Goldfarb is an attorney, author, and literary
agent in Washington, D.C. Read more of his work at
www.ronaldgoldfarb.com.


http://www.ronaldgoldfarb.com https://www.dcbar.org/

Washington Lawyer - September 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - September 2019

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Practice Management
Calendar of Events
Tomorrow’s Lawyers: Jd + Practice Ready
The Justice Gap & The Rise Of Nonlawyer Legal Providers
D.C. Bar Cle: Keeping Up With The Law
Aba Delegate’s Corner
Member Spotlight
Global & Domestic Outlook
Worth Reading
Media Bytes
Attorney Briefs
Ask The Ethics Experts
Disciplinary Summaries
2019 Celebration Of Leadership & Presidents Reception
Community & Connections
Last Word
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 1
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 2
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 3
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 7
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 9
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Calendar of Events
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 11
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Tomorrow’s Lawyers: Jd + Practice Ready
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 13
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 14
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 15
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 16
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 17
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - The Justice Gap & The Rise Of Nonlawyer Legal Providers
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 19
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 20
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 21
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 22
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 23
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 24
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - D.C. Bar Cle: Keeping Up With The Law
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 26
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 27
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Aba Delegate’s Corner
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 29
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Member Spotlight
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 31
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 32
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 33
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Global & Domestic Outlook
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 35
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 37
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Media Bytes
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 39
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Ask The Ethics Experts
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 43
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 2019 Celebration Of Leadership & Presidents Reception
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 45
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 47
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Last Word
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Cover4
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/novemberdecember2022
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/januaryfebruary2022
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/januaryfebruary2022
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/januaryfebruary2022
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/januaryfebruary2022
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/januaryfebruary2022
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/novemberdecember2021
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/julyaugust2021
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/julyaugust2021
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/marchapril2021
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/marchapril2021
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/novemberdecember2020
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/novemberdecember2020
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/septemberoctober2020
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/julyaugust2020
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/june2020
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/may2020
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/march2020
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/january2020
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/november2019
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/october2019
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/september2019
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/julyaugust2019
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/june2019
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/may2019
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/april2019
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/march2019
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/january2019
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/november2018
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/november2018
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/november2018
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/august2018
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/august2018
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/June/July2018
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/april2018
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/March2018
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/February2018
https://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/january2018
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/december2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/November2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/september 2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/september 2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/august2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/july2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/June2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/may2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/april2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/march2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/february2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/january2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/december2016
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/november2016/
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/october2016
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/september2016
https://www.nxtbookmedia.com