(The New Press, Oct. 2019). 208 pages. $24.99 hardcover
Book review by Sam Feldman
Over 2.2 million people in America are being held in cages by the government, and Alec Karakatsanis’ new book demands that we ask why. Karakatsanis, a civil rights attorney and executive director of the Civil Rights Corps, has spent his career fighting mass incarceration. He is convinced that prisons, jails and the system that refers to itself as “law enforcement” are making us less safe, not more. In Usual Cruelty: The Complicity of Lawyers in the Criminal Injustice System, he sets out to demonstrate the hypocrisy, irrationality and everyday horrors of what he calls the “punishment bureaucracy.”
The three essays that make up Karakatsanis’ book were written at different points in his career and have different focuses, but his central themes are consistent and compelling. The supposed values of our criminal justice system – the impartial administration of law, reluctance to infringe on protected rights, safeguards against arbitrary abuse of power – are nowhere to be found in the communities subjected to surveillance, search and seizure, or in the courtrooms and cages through which the human beings extracted from those communities are processed.
Karakatsanis points ...