The Law and Social Justice

10 reviews on crime, punishment, and civil rights in the U.S.

Cooper, Jonathon A. Twentieth-century influences on twenty-first-century policing: continued lessons of police reform. Lexington Books, 2015. 158p bibl index afp ISBN 9780739189047, $80.00; ISBN 9780739189054 ebook, $79.99.
Reviewed in CHOICE December 2015

Cooper (criminology and criminal justice, Indiana Univ. of PA; In Search of Police Legitimacy, 2014) argues that certain seminal events in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s had a profound and lasting effect on the organization and behavior of police forces in the US. The Supreme Court’s rulings on due process challenged police procedures; race riots highlighted long-standing and widespread antagonisms between the police and minorities; and rising crime rates, lawsuits, and social science research revealed police inefficacy and corruption. Cooper provides a lucid synthesis of existing scholarship detailing these important developments. However, his brief concluding chapter covering the subsequent directions in policing does not adequately explore or explain the impact of the past on the present. The inconsistent and desultory reforms he outlines seem unequal to the momentous crisis described. Moreover, though recent events in Ferguson and Baltimore seem to confirm the continued importance of issues of race and police isolation from the community, Cooper gives little attention to other circumstances that contribute to current tensions, such as record-high levels of incarceration, the militarization of police, and local governments’ reliance on civil forfeiture and nuisance fines to balance their budgets. Summing Up:Recommended. Upper-level undergraduates and above. —P. C. Kennedy, York College of Pennsylvania

Fallon, Richard H, Jr. Law and legitimacy in the Supreme Court. Belknap, Harvard, 2018. 221p index ISBN 9780674975811, $39.95; ISBN 9780674986114 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE July 2018

Fallon (Harvard) blends legal, philosophical, and political analysis into a larger theory of constitutional decision-making. Unlike his predecessors, Fallon does not try to establish an approach that all judges should take to reach the correct decision. Instead, his approach could best be described as meta-theory. He is driven by the practical concern of maintaining legitimacy for the Supreme Court. Are judges deciding cases based on personal preferences, or are they constrained by law, whatever that might mean for each individual judge? After reviewing the shortcomings of original public meaning, historical interpretation, and precedent, Fallon turns to Rawls for guidance. Fallon develops the reflective equilibrium theory, which provides a mechanism by which judges can legitimately change their approach to the constitution over time and thus not be locked into an unchanging theory of decision-making. This provides a means by which the legitimacy of judicial decisions can be evaluated, and which judges could adopt to protect the judiciary from claims of partisanship. Practical and philosophical, Fallon’s book prompts readers to revisit constitutional theories in a fresh and valuable way. Summing Up:Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals. —C. Shortell, Portland State University

Hinton, Elizabeth. From the war on poverty to the war on crime: the making of mass incarceration in America. Harvard, 2016. 449p index afp ISBN 9780674737235, $29.95; ISBN 9780674969223 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2016

With more than 7 million Americans incarcerated or on parole or probation, leading to scholarly analysis and journalistic accounts of mass incarceration, and another 43 million living below the established poverty guidelines, Hinton’s book is timely indeed. This social-historical account of the long-drawn-out political struggles to take care of Americans’ financial needs and protect Americans from crime activity is an excellent scholarly text. In nine chapters, the power of the analysis is the careful historical research that links the war on poverty with the war on crime. Seemingly distinct and oppositional policies in fact combine to fuel the war on drugs, which is a major contributor to mass incarceration and the over-incarceration of African American men. The nuanced analysis moves the research in criminology and poverty to heights not reached by others. This readable text is a must read for anyone working in these fields of research. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries. —E. Smith, Wake Forest University

Kamerling, Henry. Capital and convict: race, region, and punishment in post–Civil War America. Virginia, 2017. 313p bibl index ISBN 9780813940557, $45.00; ISBN 9780813940564 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE July 2018

Historian Kamerling (Seattle Univ.) examines post–Civil War corrections in Illinois and South Carolina to highlight the differences between Northern and Southern states during the Reconstruction era. He points out that chain gangs and convict leasing occupy the imaginations of many Americans who reflect on historical Reconstruction-era correctional practices. In a first of its kind comparative analysis, Kamerling takes an in-depth look at two specific states in each region to examine whether Northern and Southern states truly punished individuals differently after the Civil War ended. However, he does not solely examine racial differences in punishment practices. Rather, the book examines deeper and less-explored class, regional, ideological, and political differences between South Carolina and Illinois correctional practices. Extremely informative and well written, the book will be a valued addition to any library, especially those supporting history, sociology, or criminology and criminal justice programs. It could serve as a resource for research or as assigned reading for graduate seminars concerning historical correctional practices in the US. Full bibliography, notes, and index help guide individuals interested in exploring specific topics covered in the book. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. —D. R. Kavish, Lander University

The Oxford handbook of the history of crime and criminal justice, ed. by Paul Knepper and Anja Johansen. Oxford, 2016. 707p bibl index afp ISBN 9780199352333, $150.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE January 2017

Encyclopedias are welcome resources to establish beginning context in a topic. Handbooks such as this one do something different. They provide extensive and nuanced thinking on assigned issues, normally addressed by well-established contributors. The assemblage here fits well into the highly regarded “Oxford Handbooks in Criminology and Criminal Justice” series edited by Michael Tonry. The work comprises 34 chapters divided into eight thematic sections. They extend from introductory issues (methodologies, global crime types, gender issues) to crime and culture (media coverage, crime museums, crime fiction in Mexico) and expand to historical assessment of law enforcement and the courts. A final section considers punishment and prisons. The 37 contributors (21 are Europeans) provide measured, thoughtful comment over their 27 chapters. The authors cite the latest available scholarship. Some contributions of interest: Pieter Spierenburg traces the 19th-century emergence of criminology from sociology. Elizabeth Dale writes about non-judicial popular justice. Randall McGowen assesses death penalty trends, primarily in the US. And Michael Meranze, thinking about modern global incarceration, reflected in the US, marvels at how the prison “constantly produces new crimes and new violence.” Summing Up:Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. —R. D. McCrie, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY

Magliocca, Gerard N. The heart of the Constitution: how the Bill of Rights became the Bill of Rights. Oxford, 2018. 235p bibl index ISBN 9780190271602, $29.95; ISBN 9780190271626 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE June 2018

Magliocca (Indiana) deftly shows that Americans have not always used the term Bill of Rights to describe the first ten constitutional amendments or regarded the specific rights it protects with the same respect. Its authors neither phrased the amendments as traditional bills or declarations of rights nor were the collective amendments the only document that could claim the title. James Madison largely shepherded the amendments through Congress to avoid calling a second constitutional convention. Thereafter, politicians rarely referred to the Bill of Rights until John Bingham used the document to justify greater federal control over the states, which courts eventually exercised through the Fourteenth Amendment. Leaders resurrected the term after the Spanish-American War to justify greater federal power at home and abroad and to highlight American values in fighting totalitarianism during World War II and the Cold War. Recent justices have further interpreted the Bill of Rights to expand the right to privacy. Magliocca thinks that undue identification of the first ten amendments as the Bill of Rights sometimes privileges “a narrow set of old materials over a broader and more modern collection” of rights. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —J. R. Vile, Middle Tennessee State University

Riccucci, Norma. Policy drift: shared powers and the making of U.S. law and policy. New York University, 2018. 276p index ISBN 9781479845040, $89.00; ISBN 9781479839834 pbk, $30.00; ISBN 9781479845286 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE July 2018

The US Constitution declares that Congress makes law subject to presidential veto. Overlooked in this model is how law or policy really is the product of competition and conflict among the Congress, president, and Supreme Court. The latter two can act at any time to initiate changes in congressional policy through executive orders or court rulings. This means that the real policy might be something far different from what Congress originally enacted; it is a product of drift. Examining this drift is the subject of this book. It selects privacy, civil rights, and climate control as three policy areas to demonstrate how the three branches work together to craft and alter policy. The book’s thesis is that understanding how all three branches are involved in making policy is a far more accurate way of understanding the US government than is one simply focused on the model described in the Constitution. Great book for collections on US politics and government. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —D. Schultz, Hamline University

Selman, Donna. Punishment for sale: private prisons, big business, and the incarceration binge, by Donna Selman and Paul Leighton. Rowman & Littlefield, 2010. 204p ISBN 9781442201729, $70.00; ISBN 9781442201736 pbk, $24.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE November 2010

The dramatic growth of the US prison population in recent times has been an especially noteworthy—and troublesome—development within the criminal justice system. Although some criminologists believe that the high level of incarceration has contributed to the declining conventional crime rate since the early 1990s, other criminologists have documented some of the harmful consequences of this trend. Criminologists Selman and Leighton (both, Eastern Michigan Univ.) focus upon the role of private prisons in “America’s incarceration binge.” Applying an analytical framework that comes out of critical criminology, the authors systematically explore the Reagan era origins of the increasing shift to the privatization of corrections, the key factors contributing to its expansion, and the consequences. The pursuit of profit in a “prison-industrial” complex does little to stop crime, but greatly amplifies injustices imposed upon disadvantaged segments of society. The authors show private prison industry executives to be exorbitantly compensated and accordingly highly motivated to promote by any means possible—including harsh laws directed at immigrants and drug users—the number of convicted offenders sent to prison. An important and timely book. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. —D. O. Friedrichs, University of Scranton

State crime: current perspectives, ed. by Dawn L. Rothe and Christopher W. Mullins; introd. by M. Cherif Bassiouni. Rutgers, 2010. 335p ISBN 9780813549002, $75.00; ISBN 9780813549019 pbk, $29.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE July 2011

This collection from eminent and new scholars takes a broad social harm approach to the study of state crimes, which encompasses legally prohibited acts as well acts that have conveniently escaped legal definition because they serve the economic, political, military, and/or ideological interests of state elites and their regimes. Chapters divided into two sections follow a useful introductory chapter reviewing the development of the field and definitional debates. The first section revisits previous works, reflecting on advancements in the field and providing interesting examples and case studies of specific state crimes. The second section examines issues of accountability, impunity, and social justice, and explores the consequences of various social control responses initiated by both private and state-sponsored organizations on domestic and international levels. Predictably, the US bears the brunt of the attention; however, contributors also examine other states in developed and developing countries. There has been a paucity of research on state crime, but this volume, along with State Crime in the Global Age, ed. by William J. Chambliss et al. (CH, Jan’11, 48-3001), makes an important contribution to the literature and should not only stimulate further research on state crime, but also contribute to social policies that seek to reduce it. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. —G. B. Osborne, University of Alberta

Voices of civil rights lawyers: reflections from the Deep South, 1964–1980, ed. by Kent Spriggs. University Press of Florida, 2017. 415p index ISBN 9780813054322, $45.00; ISBN 9780813052793 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE November 2017

This work incorporates oral history to share the experiences of more than 20 lawyers who worked on civil rights cases between 1964 and 1980 in the Deep South. All of the essays are written in each contributor’s own words, which is important for conveying the true commitment to, and power of, their social justice work. The resulting book is rich in original content—only three of the pieces are reprints from previously published work. The introduction clearly outlines the organization of the content. Editor Spriggs places the essays in one of four parts, discussing how the contributors chose to become civil rights lawyers, providing background on both famous and lesser-known cases that they litigated, sharing the historical impact of those cases, and offering insight on how their work contributed to present day social justice efforts. Each firsthand account paints a vivid portrait of the conditions that each lawyer lived through or worked under, and how those conditions influenced the lawyer’s career in civil rights litigation. The lawyers’ recollections are equal parts stunning, eye-opening, overwhelming, and, ultimately, very necessary to read and comprehend. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries. —T. M. Hughes, University of Missouri – Kansas City