January 14, 2012
BOOK OF THE WEEK: WEEK TWO, 2012
William J. Stuntz, The Collapse of American Criminal Justice (Cambridge, Massachusetts, & London, England: Belknap/Harvard U. Press, 2011) ("Our enormous prison population is no wolf held by the ear. Nor is the proper measure of justice for those inmates--along with millions more who might join them soon--at odds with self-preservation for the rest of the population. On the contrary, those two populations share a common interest in a justice system that seeks moderate punishment rather than the immoderate kind that predominates today. As was true of slavery in Jefferson's day, the solutions to this particular problem chiefly require money and political will. With the notable exception of prison budgets, those things have been in short supply in America's dysfunctional criminal justice system, at least in the recent past. But the future need not resemble the recent past. A more distant past may offer a more useful model for the needed reforms." "In the wake of the Civil War white Southerners had the opportunity to embrace more freedom for their black neighbors together with a less violent, more peaceful culture. The opportunity was missed. Today, the justice system faces a similar opportunity: more freedom and democracy in black neighborhood, North and South alike, together with less crime in those neighborhoods. Seizing that opportunity begins with the understanding that maximizing 'involuntary servitude' (to use the Thirteenth Amendment's language) is not the best means of attacking violence and other lawbreaking. Over the past few decades, Americans have forgotten that lesson. We need to learn it again--to see where it comes from, and to discover how we manage to forget something so true, and so important." Id. at 59. "For the better part of a century in the Northeast and Midwest, the ratio of police officers to prison inmates stood, roughly, at two to one. In the South and West, it was closer to one to one. Today, nationwide, that ratio stands at less than one to two." "More than any other statistic, that one captured what is most wrong with American criminal justice. Police officers facilitate criminal punishment: they arrest the offenders whom prosecutors convict and prison wardens punish. But in the aggregate, large police forces have the opposite effect. More cops on the city street corners tends to mean fewer inmates in prison cells. The lenient style of criminal justice in northern cities a century ago used large police forces; the more severe South was much less policed. The link between more cops and fewer prisoners remains strong today--as does the link between those two characteristics and lower crime rates. The city with the biggest increase in the size of its police force during the 1990s was New York. The same city saw the biggest drop in urban crime during the 1990s. And the state that saw one of the smallest rises in its imprisonment rate in that decade and the biggest imprisonment drop since is again New York. States that saw both higher than average increases in the number of local police officers and lower than average increases in prison populations saw an average drop in violent crime of 31 percent. States in the opposite categories saw violent crime fall an average of only 2 percent. Putting more police officers on city streets belongs on a very short list of policy moves that should reduce both crime and the the number of prisoners." Id. at 288. Also see the book review by Former Supreme Court Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, "Or 'Broken System' of Criminal Justice," New York Review of Books, November 10, 2011, at 56. Strongly recommended discussion of how the system over emphasizes procedural protection over substantive protection. The result: more criminal laws, more crime, more imprisonment, less fairness, less democracy.).