Releasing Prisoners, Redeeming Communities

Reentry, Race, and Politics

262 pages

March, 2009

ISBN: 9780814783214



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Anthony C. Thompson is Professor of Clinical Law at New York University School of Law. He is a former Deputy Public Defender in Contra Costa County, California. He serves on the Board of Directors of the National Council for Crime and Delinquency in Oakland, California, and is Co-Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Reentry Institute of John Jay College in New York City.

All books by Anthony C. Thompson

In the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century,African Americans made up approximately twelve percent of the United States population but close to forty percent of the United States prison population. Now, in the latter half of the decade, the nation is in the midst of the largest multi-year discharge of prisoners in its history. In Releasing Prisoners, Redeeming Communities, Anthony C. Thompson discusses what is likely to happen to these ex-offenders and why.

For Thompson, any discussion of ex-offender reentry is, de facto, a question of race. After laying out the statistics, he identifies the ways in which media and politics have contributed to the problem, especially through stereotyping and racial bias. Well aware of the potential consequences if this country fails to act, Thompson offers concrete, realizable ideas of how our policies could, and should, change.


  • “Three recent books by scholars who happen to be black men eloquently attest to these broader effects of the racial disparities in our criminal justice system. . . . For New York University law professor Anthony Thompson, author of Releasing Prisoners, Redeeming Communities: Reentry, Race, and Politics, it is critical that we examine ‘the pervasive interplay of race, power, and politics that infuse and confuse our attitudes about crime.’ ”

    New York Review of Books

  • “Every member of the Obama administration, of Congress, and of state legislatures should read, study, and reflect upon Releasing Prisoners, Redeeming Communities. A detailed account of how overcriminalization and overincarceration have destroyed individuals, families, and communities, Releasing Prisoners, Redeeming Communities is scrupulously researched and footnoted.”

    The Federal Lawyer

  • “The record size of the U.S. prison population in recent years has received some attention, and it is well known that young men of color are greatly overrepresented in this prison population. The inevitable release annually of hundreds of thousands of these prisoners very disproportionately into inner-city minority communities has been relatively little discussed. In this book, NYU law professor Thompson explores in considerable depth the devastating impact of this mass influx on these communities, and the deeply disturbing lack of adequate programs and appropriate forms of assistance to constructively reintegrate former prisoners back into such communities.”


  • “Accessible and comprehensive, Releasing Prisoners, Redeeming Communities delves into the most pressing legal issue of prisoner reentry. . . . Thompson provides a much needed look at this dire social issue through an expert legal lens. This is an important book and I highly recommend it to legal scholars, policy makers, criminologists, and concerned citizens.”

    —Joan Petersilia, author of When Prisoners Come Home: Parole and Prisoner Reentry

  • “Thompson provides a compelling argument that we cannot understand reentry, and indeed criminal justice policy broadly, without analyzing its racial dimensions. He also provides us with a clear road map that helps us to access the state of reentry today, and what we need to do politically and programatically to develop a system that is committed to both public safety and racial fairness.”

    —Marc Mauer, Executive Director, The Sentencing Project

  • “Thompson brilliantly sheds critical light on the insidious racial underpinnings of what may be the most important and understudied criminal justice question of our time.”

    —David Cole, author of No Equal Justice: Race and Class in the American Criminal Justice System

  • Releasing Prisoners, Redeeming Communities marks the debut of a powerful new voice destined to play a key role in our national criminal justice debate. Thompson tackles one of the most challenging public policy dilemmas of our time: What to do with some 600,000 people who leave prison every year? Along the way, he deftly exposes the media's complicity in creating in creating our national prison boom, exposing how the Fourth Estate has not only contributed to the insane growth of our prison system, but also exacerbated our ongoing reentry crisis. His focus on the media represents a valuable contribution to the ongoing public debate about the future of our criminal justice system.”

    —Jennifer Gonnerman, author of Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett