The Russell Sage Foundation is pleased to announce the publication of former RSF visiting journalist Sylvia A. Harvey’s debut book, The Shadow System: Mass Incarceration and the American Family (Hachette Bold Type Books). The book follows three families in Florida, Kentucky, and Mississippi whose lives have been transformed by the long-term incarceration of one of their family members. Harvey’s reporting demonstrates how the rise of mass incarceration affects the nearly seven million people under some form of direct supervision in the United States and their families. Harvey examines the strained relationships between incarcerated parents and their children and the policies that exacerbate these problems, including mandatory sentencing laws, unjust prison visitation rules, and the high cost of staying in touch, including exorbitant rates for phone calls.
The Shadow System has already received wide press coverage, including encouraging reviews from Booklist and BookPage. Kirkus Reviews describes it as “a solid combination of research, compassion, and anger that sheds light on a highly flawed system.” Harvey was interviewed about the impact of mass incarceration on the 2.7 million children with parents who are involved with the criminal justice system for Strange Fruit, a show produced by the Louisville, Kentucky affiliate of National Public Radio. The Shadow System was also featured on reading lists curated by Ms. Magazine and the Amsterdam News.
In addition to promoting her book, Harvey has written about the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the American criminal justice and foster care systems. Harvey wrote for Vox about how the COVID-19 pandemic may present opportunities to test criminal justice reforms, including reduced sentences, the elimination of cash bail, and early release of high-risk prisoners. Harvey writes: “This pandemic has illuminated a broader view of the inequities in the US, and can serve as more than an opportunity to test and observe more just policing and incarceration policies. It could lead to permanent reform of our criminal justice system.” She wrote an article for GEN about a domestic violence survivor whose four-month-old son was placed in foster care during the pandemic, forcing the termination of her in-person visits. Harvey spoke about the intersections of mass incarceration and the pandemic in an interview with National Public Radio’s Closer Look.
On June 17, 2020, Harvey will be in conversation with Kentucky State Representative Attica Scott and Louisville family members featured in the book.