Review of Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration by Emily Bazelon Rating ****
Charged is a book about the criminal justice system and mass incarceration. The author uses two separate cases to help illustrate her overall theme of criminal justice reform. Rather than look at the problem from a policy standpoint, author Emily Bazelon focuses on the role of the prosecutor.
The author chose two cases to focus on: one involving a weapons charge and the other a murder. As the author follows the two cases, the many faults and disparities of our broken criminal justice system are laid bare.
Bazelon’s book carefully examines all aspects of our current justice system. She rightfully focuses on the role of the prosecutor. If you want to reduce mass incarceration, reform needs to start here. Most people think that prosecutors are fair and balanced. They protect the public from criminals and only seek out appropriate sentences. The truth is far from this idealized notion. Prosecutors have almost unlimited power. To reduce the high costs of trials, they offer plea deals. They threaten those who refuse plea deals with additional charges and lengthy prison sentences. For those who do go to trial, they soon learn that they are at a distinct disadvantage. There are thousands of people in prison right now who are serving unjust sentences simply because a prosecutor decided to teach them a lesson.
From a narrative standpoint, the book falls short. Besides jumping from one case to the other, the author interweaves anecdotes and case files to help explain the point she is trying to make. For example, when she gets to the topic of bail for the murder suspect, she spends the next fifty pages discussing the many problems associated with the way high bail demands leads to mass incarceration. These are important topics to cover, but the many tangents lead to a disjointed narrative.
There’s no question that this book is required reading for anyone involved in criminal justice. The two cases, however, that the author chose to highlight were not well suited for the intended purpose.