Crime and Punishment in the US Part 2

1. The limits of blame: rethinking punishment and responsibility
Kelly, Erin. Harvard, 2018

The supposed righteousness of retribution has been a driving force of the legal system, without fully equating philosophical thinking that critically delineates the contours of blame and responsibility. Kelly (Tufts) challenges the prevailing retributivist theory of criminal justice, demonstrating the lack of alignment between law and morality. Arguably, the mismatch between criminal guilt and moral blame presents a moral problem for a punitive society that takes a judicial approach to social problems and criminals become second-class citizens for the rest of their lives. In the era of mass incarceration and its collateral damage, Kelly charges that it is time to revise norms that stigmatize and criminalize and address the consequential disconnect between the legal criteria of guilt and the moral criteria of blame. The Limits of Blame calls for a transformation in philosophical, legal, and public thinking about criminal justice. The book is beneficial in the areas of philosophy, jurisprudence, criminal law, penology, and criminal justice reform.
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2. Shadows of doubt: stereotypes, crime, and the pursuit of justice
O’Flaherty, Brendan. by Brendan O’Flaherty and Rajiv Sethi Harvard, 2019

Color is destiny. That blacks and Latinos are disproportionately arrested, convicted, and punished has been well established, but the relationship between criminal law involvement and race is extremely nuanced. In this important analysis, economists Brendan O’Flaherty (Columbia) and Rajiv Sethi (Barnard, Columbia) look at how numerous empirical measurements confirm the race-crime connection: they provide new data on the systemic bias that links to stereotyping and intractable policies. The disparity runs across the criminal justice system, from profiling perpetrators of minor crimes to using lethal force. Along the way, the authors marvel that the US’s preternaturally high incarceration rate has not declined despite a reduction in major crimes beginning in the early 1990s. Once built, a criminal justice bureaucracy—prosecutors’ prerogatives, expanded jails and prisons, coercive probation, and parole services—is not easily dismantled. It becomes the new normal.
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3. Civilizing torture: an American tradition
Brundage, W. Fitzhugh. Belknap, Harvard, 2018

Torture, violence, and war have been a part of the Americas and the American culture from the time of the early indigenous settlers up to the modern day. While the American people take pride in their country as democratic and civilized, history has shown that the practice of torture and violence pervades much of its history. While the early European settlers tried to make torture invisible and use it only as a viable option for tyrants and savages, the young American nation continued to struggle with its position on punishment. The creation of the penitentiaries in the 19th century, under the guise of rehabilitation, were created in the hope that “milder correctives” would be “wisely” used, thus ensuring that a happy balance between European civility and Indian primitivism would be achieved. Brundage provides an in-depth study of how America tried to temper its use of torture by using the methods learned from Europeans and Native peoples.
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4. Vice, crime, and poverty: how the Western imagination invented the underworld
Kalifa, Dominique. tr. by Susan Emanuel Columbia, 2019

A distinguished French cultural historian, Kalifa (Univ. of Paris 1 Panthéon–Sorbonne) gives a fascinating account of changing views of outcast society in Western culture. The author concentrates on the period from the 19th century to the mid-20th. By the 19th century the earlier image of the rogue had broadened into the notion of the dissolute, idle poor, who together with the criminal underworld became the “dangerous class.” Crime and poverty, and possibly revolution, were thus associated. This dangerous class became a fixture of mass culture, evoking both fear and fascination. Writers like Charles Dickens and social investigators like Charles Booth reported on slum conditions. Taxonomy came to be employed in classifying the denizens of the underworld as a separate race with different physical and mental traits. The underworld even became the subject of tourism, with guides, commentary, and mandatory tour stops. By the 20th century the concept started to evaporate, thanks to the welfare state and the decriminalization of poverty. The world of crime became the world of organized crime and criminals were far from impoverished.
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5. Blackhood against the police power: punishment and disavowal in the “post-racial” era
Woods, Tryon P. Michigan State, 2019

While the interactions of historical forces that define and govern race in America have been well documented over the years, much less analyzed is the punishment of race (and ethnicity) and the disavowal of sexual violence central to the contemporary post-racial culture of politics. With provoking analysis, Woods (Univ. of Massachusetts, Dartmouth) details how the post-racial era is more than simply the latest iteration of antiblackness (and antibrowness), which has historically been embedded in the core of American society. He masterfully delineates the mechanism in which antiblack (and antibrown) sexual violence, constitutive of the era of globalization since the dawn of racial slavery, wraps itself in the guise of a new modern and diverse discourse of disavowal. Blackhood against the Police Power is vital in the fields of sociology, history, African American/black studies, ethnic/minority studies, and criminal justice.
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