Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration

Little, Brown. Feb. 2021. 352p. ISBN 9780316451512. $29. SOC SCI
For incarcerated persons in the United States, release does not equal freedom. Miller’s first book is an important, harrowing ethnographic study that reads like a keenly observed memoir, which, in part, it is. His own father and brothers having been imprisoned, Miller, a chaplain at the Cook County Jail in Chicago, is candidly close to his research on mass incarceration and its after effects. By listening closely to his many subjects, Miller demonstrates what living with a criminal record is really like: debilitating, dehumanizing, marginalizing, and exhausting. Structural barriers keep the formerly incarcerated from meaningful shelter, work, and civic engagement. While fear, racism, and disdain for people in poverty are underlying causes, the law is the direct cause, with state and national housing, employment, and criminality policies jeopardizing successful reentry at every turn. These realities originated with slavery and racialization, which led to societal assumptions of Black criminality. Unjust and unsustainable, yet entrenched, these realities will only change if society learns to acknowledge the humanity of people who are feared—even people who have caused harm—and ceases to exclude them from the rights of citizenship.
VERDICT A worthy companion to the lauded Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, this is essential reading for all who care about justice in contemporary America.
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