As the national conversation about criminal justice reform has progressed, a much wider variety of perspectives and voices has been introduced into the mainstream. In contrast to the situation in the “tough on crime” ’80s and ’90s, it’s no longer exclusively the victims — or hypothetical victims — of crime who have a say. Increasingly, it’s the people and communities who must bear the weight of a broken paradigm that are being heard, too.
That said, the dialogue still has its limits. For obvious reasons, it’s especially rare to hear from someone who understands the criminal justice system from the viewpoint of both the outsider and the formerly incarcerated. And this is just one of the reasons why former Missouri state Sen. Jeff Smith’s new book, “Mr. Smith Goes to Prison: What My Year Behind Bars Taught Me About America’s Prison Crisis,” is so valuable. With empathy and insight, Smith’s book takes on one of the country’s most complicated and fraught policy issues while also providing a gripping memoir of an experience all of us would prefer to miss.
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