Book Review – A Plague of Prisons

by Craig Jones Former Executive Director, The John Howard Society of Canada.

A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America / By Ernest Drucker, The New Press, 2011, pp. xiv, 211

Every student of epidemiology learns the story of the Broad Street pump (London, Summer 1854), which marks the birth of epidemiology. In A Plague of Prisons, Ernest Drucker uses that story as a metaphor to explain the explosion of incarceration in the United States that followed the 1973 enactment of the Rockefeller drug laws and to illustrate how political decisions act as vectors – pumps – and how these vectors create a social epidemic of gargantuan proportions. Drucker is professor emeritus of family and social medicine at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He was present at the creation of the AIDS epidemic in the Bronx in the early 1980s and watched how politics, ignorance, homophobia and racism facilitated the transmission of disease from certain neighborhoods and populations to a much larger population via the Riker’s Island prison.