From Publishers Weekly
This wide-ranging history, full of quirky details and thoughtful analysis, is a valuable synthesis of research tracing the tensions between American liberty and its costs. Following a brief section on the colonial period and the role of religion and ideology in criminal justice, Friedman, a Stanford law professor, explores important changes in the 19th century, such as the evolution of penitentiaries, the professionalization of the police, the explosion of swindles in a newly mobile society. Approximately half the book is devoted to the 20th century, with its own increase of crime and controversies over such issues as plea bargaining, the death penalty and laws regulating morality. Friedman's predictions on the future are scanty and not particularly optimistic. He sees few practicable solutions for crime, which he views as an organic part of the society it preys upon. "Perhaps--just perhaps--the siege of crime may be the price we pay for a brash, self-loving, relatively free and open society." History Book Club alternate.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
A social history of American criminal justice that offers not abstruse legal analysis or philosophy, but the practical story of ``a working system and what makes it tick.'' Friedman (Law/Stanford) argues that ``judgments about crime, and what to do about it, come out of a specific time and place.'' Thus, he links the criminal-justice systems of different periods of American history to varying characteristics of American society. Colonial courts, for instance, because of their religious orientation, punished not only crimes against persons or property but also acts of private immorality that would no longer be classified as crimes; moreover, these courts relied primarily on public punishments emphasizing shame (such as confinement in the pillory or stocks) rather than on incarceration. Surveying 19th- century criminal justice, Friedman explores the impact of the disenfranchisement of blacks and women; the increasing mobility of society; and the changing role of morality. Similarly, the 20th century has witnessed an enormous increase in the creation of regulatory crimes (particularly in the fields of taxation, securities, and antitrust regulation). Friedman contends that the more permissive, individualistic culture of 20th-century America has qualitatively changed types and motivations of violent crime: In a phenomenon inconceivable in the more disciplined, self- controlled societies of the past two centuries, today's people often commit crimes in order to give themselves a sense of self- worth (``crimes of the self''). After grimly surveying the explosive growth of crime in postwar America, Friedman sadly concludes that, because of rapid changes in society, and despite public obsession with the crime issue, ``we are likely to bump along more or less as we are.'' An absorbing and thoughtful study, scholarly but told in a folksy, unpretentious style. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.