"Race to Incarcerate: A Graphic Retelling" illustrates exploding incarceration rates

Graphic novel adapts seminal 1999 work by the same name

Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil | 6/5/2013, 2:08 p.m.
Race to Incarcerate: A Graphic Retelling

Jones says the inspiration for this drawing came from medieval artwork, which often portrays hell as the mouth of a beast. And in modern parlance, the serpent conveys the “monstrous” growth of the U.S. prison system and the idea that prisoners are trapped in the belly of the beast, she says.

This image also appears on the book’s cover, but with a slightly different design that Jones says mimics vintage tattoo art and lettering, “an homage to a prisoner’s art form,” she explains, “a reference to prison culture to give it a little bit of a positive spin.”

While the format of this book may be different from earlier editions of Race to Incarcerate, Mauer says his fundamental message remains the same. “There should be consequences for people who commit crimes or harm other people, but one of the problems is that we’ve come to equate those consequences primarily with incarceration,” he says. “We need a complex mix of factors to produce public safety: access to opportunity; and economic resources to deal with social problems such as poverty, substance abuse and poor schooling; and criminal justice when it’s appropriate.”

Mauer argues that the prison system has become so large that it’s robbing resources and attention from many of those other approaches.

“I think if we reverse some of those priorities,” he says, “we’d get much better outcomes in public safety, we’d have less racial disparity and we’d have fewer horrible consequences than we’re seeing today from the prison system.”