Over at the National Review, Kay Hymowitz offers some praise from my writing skill and some demerits for my recent article on mass incarceration and the black family. I appreciate the praise, but I would appreciate it, and the demerits, a lot more if I could be assured that Hymowitz actually read the article.
I don’t know how, for instance, to reconcile the claim that I have overstated “the extent of the prison population serving sentences for drug offenses” with the actual article, which says, “The popular notion that [decarceration] can largely be accomplished by releasing nonviolent drug offenders is false—as of 2012, 54 percent of all inmates in state prisons had been sentenced for violent offenses.”
I don’t know what to make of the claim that I am “ignoring” violent crime given sentences like this: “Between 1963 and 1993, the murder rate doubled, the robbery rate quadrupled, and the aggravated-assault rate nearly quintupled.” I follow this with an argument over why the thesis that mass incarceration flowed from crime is incorrect. You can read that portion beginning in the second paragraph of the second chapter.
What Hymowitz did read, she is intent on misrepresenting. The point is not, as she asserts, to “bundle” a woman (Celia) who kills her slave master and rapist with a 16-year-old (Odell Newton) who shoots a taxi driver. The point is to expose a dubious benchmark. When a society has a history, as this one does, of treating ordinary self-improvement and self-protection within a minority population as criminal, it becomes easier to understand why it would treat actual criminality as something much more. Odell Newton—who was given a sentence of life with the possibility of parole, who has been repeatedly recommended for parole, and whose employers have said they would hire him were he paroled—is experiencing something “much more” than what he was sentenced to. History helps explain why.