Marc Morjé Howard’s Unusually Cruel: Prisons, Punishment and the Real American Exceptionalism delivers a sweeping analysis of the criminal justice systems in the United States, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Western democratic countries similar to the US that covers a range of economic, cultural, and geopolitical aspects. Supplementing legal analysis with criminological and sociopolitical scholarship on US mass incarceration, Howard explores what makes the US criminal justice system “unusually cruel.” Compared to other countries, US plea-bargaining processes are more coercive, sentences terms lengthier, prison conditions less humane, and obstacles to reentry staggering. Despite a brief reflection on the legal implications of his analysis and the necessary broad treatment given different sociopolitical histories of each country, Unusually Cruel in its systematic contextualization of the “life cycle” of the America criminal justice system is an eye-opening addition...

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