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Punishment Without Crime: How Our Massive Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal Hardcover – December 31, 2018
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Punishment Without Crime offers an urgent new interpretation of inequality and injustice in America by examining the paradigmatic American offense: the lowly misdemeanor. Based on extensive original research, legal scholar Alexandra Natapoff reveals the inner workings of a massive petty offense system that produces over 13 million cases each year. People arrested for minor crimes are swept through courts where defendants often lack lawyers, judges process cases in mere minutes, and nearly everyone pleads guilty. This misdemeanor machine starts punishing people long before they are convicted; it punishes the innocent; and it punishes conduct that never should have been a crime. As a result, vast numbers of Americans -- most of them poor and people of color -- are stigmatized as criminals, impoverished through fines and fees, and stripped of drivers' licenses, jobs, and housing.
For too long, misdemeanors have been ignored. But they are crucial to understanding our punitive criminal system and our widening economic and racial divides.
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2018
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"An essential contribution to the fields of criminology and sociology."―CHOICE
"Intelligently written, tightly argued, and often heartbreaking, Natapoff's account is a worthy companion to Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow."―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Natapoff's presentation of her meticulously researched data is impressive...A searing, groundbreaking study of criminology and sociology."―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"This important book completely upends the criminal justice conversation. Natapoff documents dark truths about the misdemeanor process-how it forces the innocent to plead guilty, how it disregards basic legal rights, and how it inflicts deep injustice. Her insights inspire both outrage and innovation. Punishment Without Crime provides a terrific new understanding of a flawed criminal system, and it offers a much-needed path toward the fair and just criminal system America deserves. A necessary book for our times."―Barry Scheck, cofounder of theInnocence Project
"Punishment Without Crime is a searing indictment of our petty offense system. Through meticulous original research, heartbreaking stories, and pioneering insights, Alexandra Natapoff's book is a masterful critique of an overlooked but essential component of our criminal justice system's punitive machinery. Her account exposes how race and poverty intersect within the misdemeanor system to punish the innocent; create, perpetuate, and reinforce racial inequities; and fuel mass incarceration. Accessible, powerful, and illuminating, Punishment Without Crime will become essential to all future discussions of the criminal justice system's role in shaping the racial and social order of our nation."―L. Song Richardson, dean and chancellor's professor of law, Universityof California, Irvine School of Law
"This is an indispensable book for understanding the real American criminal courts-emphatically not the version familiar from film and television. The millions processed through our misdemeanor courts every year-overwhelmingly poor and people of color-rarely receive anything like procedural justice and often are burdened with stigma and harsh collateral consequences that lock them into disadvantage. Understanding and repairing this broken system is of the utmost importance if we want to be able to call our criminal courts a system of justice."―Carol S. Steiker, Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law and codirector ofthe Criminal Justice Policy Program, Harvard Law School
About the Author
- Publisher : Basic Books (December 31, 2018)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 352 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0465093795
- ISBN-13 : 978-0465093793
- Item Weight : 1.26 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.4 x 1.55 x 9.6 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #566,103 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
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"Misdemeanors .....are the chump change of the criminal system. They are labeled “minor,” “low-level,” and “petty.” Sometimes they go by innocuous names like “infraction” or “violation.” Because the crimes are small and the punishments relatively light in comparison to felonies, this world of low-level offenses has not gotten much attention. But it is enormous, powerful, and surprisingly harsh. Every year, approximately 13 million people are charged with crimes as minor as littering or as serious as domestic violence.3 Those 13 million misdemeanors make up the vast majority, around 80 percent, of the nation’s criminal dockets. Most arrests in this country are for misdemeanors. Most convictions are misdemeanors."
I have recently been hearing about people being jailed for failure to pay fines and thought to myself "this can't be right we don't have debtors prisons in this country." So when I saw that Punishment Without Crime was being released and critics were acclaiming it, I thought that I should read it as well and get down to the bottom of the story. It was indeed eye-opening as I confess to being quite ignorant of the whole misdemeanor system which is enormous and according to Natapoff anything but just:
"As legal scholar Jonathan Simon puts it, “The whole structure of misdemeanor justice… seems intended to subject the urban poor to a series of petty but cumulative blows to their dignity as citizens of equal standing.”38"
Natapoff has done her homework. This work has been thoroughly researched and is annotated throughout. She is also clear in her descriptions and explanations so that a lay person can understand the law and what is happening easily.
Natapoff explains how the misdemeanor system effects the disparities of race and wealth, how it frequently tramples our constitution, how it has become privatized, and causes negative life changing impacts. In the final chapter she cautiously lays out how it could be changed for the better.
I will admit to being pretty ignorant of this part of our justice system and am happy to have read this book.
Add to that some glaring inconsistencies -- diversion bad in one place, good in another, fines are bad in one place but should be used to decriminalize some behaviors (ignoring the fact that a fine is in some places treated as a conviction of a crime) --and the answers become pretty incoherent.
Basically, the prescription for the problem is for legislators to reduce or eliminate fines, costs, and criminal penalties; police to arrest fewer people; and actors within the court system provide more careful attention to these cases (even though the aforementioned legislators have refused to provide the resources to do that).
Perhaps the most glaring and inexplicable omission is the interrelationship between behavioral health systems and the criminal justice system. Our jails and prisons today are the primary provider of mental health services. Creating a true diversion system, using crisis teams instead of police responses, and educating everyone in the system would go a long way toward addressing some of the issues discussed in this book.
Some of the statements are just plain wrong. The author talks about FSTs (field sobriety tests) and makes a blanket statement about their reliability based on a single case where they were excluded, when in fact courts across the country have held Daubert hearings on their reliability and many if not most have found the evidence to be reliable.
Interesting book, mostly for the footnotes that reference a lot of useful material when used as original sources.