The United States has an overcriminalization problem. On this much, Americans agree. In 2014 one in 163 Americans served time in prisons (23). When we account for all supervised persons as well (parole and probation), then the numbers become even more acute: “one in thirty-five Americans” serve within the USA correctional system (23).
While many agree on the problem of overcriminalization, the solution to this obstacle does not enjoy the same kind of consensus. Hence, Anthony Bradley has written Ending Overcriminalization and Mass Incarceration to define the problem and to provide solutions.
Bradley uses the concept of personalism as an overarching perspective to think through practical solutions to the problem. Bradley explains, “Criminal justice reform will only be successful if we change it from the person up rather than from policy outward” (5).
His personalism does not mean that Bradley ignores policy, however. He explains, “This book argues that right policies can only bring about criminal justice reform if they work in concert with the other institutions in society that shape human life” (4).
Both civil society and personalism play important roles in Bradley’s work. He economically explains, “[T]his book argues in favor of decentralizing the dominant political and economic institutions of criminal justice and reorganizing criminal justice reform with the person at the center of focus” (5).
The book splits into two parts. The first part provides a historical context and discusses policy. Part two focuses on civil society and emphasizes through these means. Throughout the work, Bradley emphasizes an evidence-based approach to the problem of overcriminalization and refreshingly places the person at the centre.
Religious readers should particularly appreciate his personalism. And churches and other religious institutions can play a key role in overcoming this societal ill. For any socially minded person, I recommend Ending Overcriminalization and Mass Incarceration. It will provide food for thought, key data to understand the problem, and a framework that promises actual solutions rather than mere lament.
Disclaimer: CUP provided me with a review copy.