Michelle Alexander, author of the New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, reviewed Baz Dreisinger’s Incarceration Nations for The Washington Post this past Sunday.
In her review Alexander asks the questions, “What can America learn from systems of incarceration around the world?” and “What is justice?” In Incarceration Nations Dreisinger, she explains, “takes us on a tour of prisons around the globe in search of clues that might answer the question of what justice is or, rather, what it ought to be.” Alexander details Dreisinger’s travels across the globe, from Norway, where she marvels at the short sentences for inmates and amenities available at the prisons, to Brazil, where she discusses literature with an inmate, and back to the United States, which has “mandatory minimum sentences, three-strikes laws, militarized police forces and a prison building boom unlike anything the world has ever seen.” She praises Dreisinger’s work thusly:
The great gift of Incarceration Nations is that, by introducing a wide range of approaches to crime, punishment and questions of justice in diverse countries — Rwanda, South Africa, Brazil, Jamaica, Uganda, Singapore, Australia and Norway — it forces us to face the reality that American-style punishment has been chosen. It is not normal, natural or inevitable.
In her review Alexander is most intrigued by Dreisinger’s visit to Rwanda, the nation most immediately known for the 1994 Civil War and genocide. There, she says, the country “aims to rebirth itself by facing its history honestly, unflinchingly, with open hearts and minds, yet we learn little about this reckoning and national awakening.”