The breathtaking premise of Ernest Drucker's new book is that mass incarceration is an epidemic ravaging the country -- not a solution to a problem, but a problem in itself.
A longtime practitioner and scholar of public health, Drucker observed the explosive growth and unprecedented number of Americans being sent to prison beginning in the late 1970s and recognized the familiar characteristics of the spread of an epidemic disease: outbreaks and contagion, patterns of transmission, and human impact – tens of millions of years of life lost to incarceration.
"The paradigm shift here is really from looking at mass incarceration as a solution to social problems like crime and drugs to saying that that level of incarceration is itself a public health problem," Drucker says.
Once that happens, "then the objective shifts from 'how do you decrease crime and drugs?' to 'what can we do to have fewer people in prison?'" he says. "That's a totally different goal."