The Shadow System: Mass Incarceration and the American Family

Bold Type: S. & S. Apr. 2020. 288p. ISBN 9781568588803. $28. SOC SCI
Harvey, a journalist who writes about race, class, and incarceration, probes the flaws of the U.S. prison system through the lives of three people who were once incarcerated to show the traumatic effects the removal from their families has on their loved ones, especially their children. The narrative includes stories of parents William and Ruth in Mississippi, Randall and Ayana in Florida, and Dawn in Kentucky that are sad but affirming, weighing minimal legal services that trap people in biased judicial systems against inmates making the best of their circumstances. The author shows how for-profit prisons, partisan parole board appointments, and exorbitant bail fees conspire to ensure judicial systems that favor punishment over rehabilitation, leading to further separations between inmates and their children. William and Randall are serving sentences for murder, while Dawn, a victim of opioid addiction, served a short sentence before entering a treatment program. Harvey brings the perspective of her father’s 27-year imprisonment and its lifelong effects on her to this empathetic investigation.
VERDICT Readers concerned about prison reform and social justice will be enlightened by the perspectives offered throughout. See Emily Bazelon’s Charged for another indictment of the U.S. judicial system.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


Get connected. Join our global community of more than 200,000 librarians and educators.

Get access to 8000+ annual reviews of books, ebooks, and more

As low as $13.50/month