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by Peter Moskos

February 6, 2012

Couldn't have said it better myself! (II)

So after an email correspondence with an editor at The New Yorker, they responded at length and denied pretty much everything: "The particular facts and comparisons you cite...don't seem specific to your work." Really? I beg to differ. But what can I do?

I still think Adam Gopnik needed to cite me in the magazine.

Gopnik now says rather nice things about In Defense of Flogging online. Had he just done so in the article, parts of which were, so, let us say, "inspired," by my writing, I would be pleased instead of pissed. And despite Gopnik's ever-modest insistence, he does manage to "unpack" my argument rather well:
Peter Moskos’s In Defense of Flogging ... depends on an extended analogy, difficult to unpack in summary form. Moskos, a professor of law (and, not incidentally, a former Baltimore police officer) both does mean his “case for flogging”--he thinks that the system is so rotten than even restoring the cat would be better--and rather strongly, I think, doesn’t mean it. He doesn’t really want to flog the evil out of prisoners. He wants to flog the indifference out of the rest of us. Moskos (who, I’m informed, seems to have coined the phrase “natural rate of incarceration”) rightly calls prisons “an insidious marriage of entombment and torture,” and his provocative book makes many sanely provocative points; it is one I’ve urged on those who want to do more reading on the subject, and I’d urge it again now.
I'm sure glad Gopnik liked my book. I'm also sure it would have saved a lot of hassle had he just said so earlier.

[Also, just FYI, I'm not a professor of law. Never have been. Never taken a law class in my life. The confusion comes from the name of my department: "The Department of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice Administration." Call me a criminologist or a sociologist or, if you must, a professor of police science.]


Thinking CAP said...

The question I have, if you don’t mind me saying so, which comes to mind (quite pointedly), after reading his latest comment — which seems somewhat tortured, or should I say flogged — is, “shouldn’t he have used even more commas and parentheticals in 5 sentences?!”

I urge him, assuming he wants, to rewrite all (or some) of his current and former pieces — no matter how far back, as long as they are relevant to said discussion — such that, and I mean this in all humility, they are acceptable to seńor Moskos; perhaps Mr. Moskos can even advise on writing style, as long as The New Yorker is willing to give him credit, and perhaps delicious food or money, I’m not entirely sure what Peter likes more. ;-)

Bill Kidder said...

Maybe the problem isn't that Gopnick unwittingly plagiarized your book; could it be that the underlying message of the literature of Reagan-era justice has an unnerving sameness to it.

The Gopnick article got me thinking about what had happened to America in the last 40 years. I went to the library and pulled a pile of interesting-looking books off the shelves, and in the last 3 weeks or so read Dyer's, one of Sasha Abramsky's, both of yours, and just finished the New Jim Crow (which I had to buy - the only library copy has gone missing). I was also on the lookout for any books that are supporting the current status quo, but found nothing. Not even a peep from Ann Coulter.

If you aren't taking a Marxian approach, the arguments are basically the same. The rise of a prison economy in the US to fill in the gaps left by outsourced manufacturing. Political expediency by going after a harmless boogie man. The collaboration of the media. So Gopnick mentions the same statistics as you and came to the same conclusions. Maybe he got them from the book. But the numbers are so stunningly huge it's worth putting them in perspective.

And then there are some thoughts I haven't found elsewhere....

Is the gentrification in parts of Brooklyn related to this? DId large numbers of families lose their hold on the city and move elsewhere, only to have their landlords turn around and rent and sell to wealthier whites? What happens if/when this war finally ends, and its victims try to return to their old homes. It feels like the few Jews who returned to Poland in 1946 (to a less than warm welcome), or the Japanese-Canadians who returned to the west coast in that same year, only to find their homes and boats were gone for good.

How big is the prison economy in the US now? This would include not just the guards, but the prison construction companies, probation officers, law enforcement, etc. Compared to 1970? And what's with all these fees Alexander writes about in her book? Another invisible barrier we never hear about. Charging War on Drug victims court costs reminds me of the European Jews who had to pay their one-way train fares.

This is a huge subject. We know how we got here. We now know what's happening. The big question is how we fix it.

Bill Kidder said...

I forgot the last issue that's been on my mind, after reading Russell Banks' latest novel, Lost Memory Of Skin:

How do we renormalize the treatment of sex offenders in this country? After his book, I found the oncefallen.com site. Those guys (and they aren't all male either, but most are) are going through the same hell as the blacks caught with drugs, facing a one-size-fits-all system that lumps everyone -- serial rapists and teenage sexters -- into one hell.
Who's going to stand up for them?

Thinking CAP said...

Hi Bill, per your second comment. This somewhat related bit popped up two days ago:



Regarding your first comment. I wish I could say where I’ve heard it and who said it, but I’ve heard black cops who said they came to realize all they were doing was helping clear out neighborhoods by making them more dangerous (new dealers moving in after older dealers removed), and over time the long time inhabitants fled, while rich people quietly bought up the neighborhood.

It may have been on a radio show called Expert Witness that I listened to part of, years and years ago. Which would explain why I have lost track of the source.

Regarding court fees, this is just another “kick them while their down” tactic of sick power mongers. But they are doing what their overlords do, work to keep people in perpetual debt and servitude. The U.S. (and world) is like one big company store.

Check out http://DrugWarFacts.org for lots of great information, I’m pretty sure it has stats on the prison industrial complex. Fore more prison info check out