A renowned journalist and legal commentator exposes the unchecked power of the prosecutor as a driving force in America’s mass incarceration crisis—and charts a way out.
“An important, thoughtful, and thorough examination of criminal justice in America that speaks directly to how we reduce mass incarceration.”—Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy
“This harrowing, often enraging book is a hopeful one, as well, profiling innovative new approaches and the frontline advocates who champion them.”—Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted
The American criminal justice system is supposed to be a contest between two equal adversaries, the prosecution and the defense, with judges ensuring a fair fight. That image of the law does not match the reality in the courtroom, however. Much of the time, it is prosecutors more than judges who control the outcome of a case, from choosing the charge to setting bail to determining the plea bargain. They often decide who goes free and who goes to prison, even who lives and who dies. In Charged, Emily Bazelon reveals how this kind of unchecked power is the underreported cause of enormous injustice—and the missing piece in the mass incarceration puzzle.
Charged follows the story of two young people caught up in the criminal justice system: Kevin, a twenty-year-old in Brooklyn who picked up his friend’s gun as the cops burst in and was charged with a serious violent felony, and Noura, a teenage girl in Memphis indicted for the murder of her mother. Bazelon tracks both cases—from arrest and charging to trial and sentencing—and, with her trademark blend of deeply reported narrative, legal analysis, and investigative journalism, illustrates just how criminal prosecutions can go wrong and, more important, why they don’t have to.
Bazelon also details the second chances they prosecutors can extend, if they choose, to Kevin and Noura and so many others. She follows a wave of reform-minded D.A.s who have been elected in some of our biggest cities, as well as in rural areas in every region of the country, put in office to do nothing less than reinvent how their job is done. If they succeed, they can point the country toward a different and profoundly better future.
“Bazelon, cogent and clear-eyed as ever, lays out a welcome double-barreled argument: A prosecutorial shift toward mercy and fairness is crucial to healing our busted criminal justice system, and it’s already happening.”—Sarah Koenig, host of Serial