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Punishment without crime : how our massive misdemeanor system traps the innocent and makes America more unequal
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Library Journal Reviews

The subtitle of this volume captures its essence. Natapoff (law, Univ. of California, Irvine; Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice; coeditor, The New Criminal Justice Thinking) lends her expertise to describing the complex U.S. misdemeanor justice system. Although mass incarceration is recognized as a serious issue, the misdemeanor phenomenon, by comparison, has escaped similar attention. Natapoff uses data and personal case studies to demonstrate how this overlooked process impacts some 13 million Americans annually, especially people from disadvantaged communities. Yet, the injustices of the system remain under the radar since the vast majority of offenses are largely handled by state and local systems, which may administer justice arbitrarily. While sometimes avoiding jail time, the burden of steep fines and fees can still leave people with a permanent record. VERDICT This well-researched and highly readable work is a model case study of America's criminal justice system. Besides being ideal for use in the classroom, it will attract criminal justice scholars and anyone invested in human rights.—William D. Pederson, Louisiana State Univ., Shreveport

Copyright 2019 Library Journal.

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Law professor Natapoff (Snitching) paints a picture of large-scale judicial and police misconduct in this exposé of the misdemeanor system. Drawing on local data from across the U.S. and anecdotes, she shows that many defendants in misdemeanor cases have committed no crimes, are given no legal counsel and no jury trial, and have their fates decided in three minutes or less. Furthermore, she argues, many misdemeanor arrests are unfair: poverty is criminalized and race makes certain people more likely than others to be arrested; in Urbana, Ill., for example, 91% of those ticketed for jaywalking were black despite only 16% of the population being black. Next, grievously overburdened public defenders, daily jail fees that are nigh unpayable for impoverished defendants, and financial incentives for judges to convict lead to overly high rates of conviction. This can have a steep cost for those affected: in addition to driving people further into poverty, a single low-level conviction can render a person ineligible to work for many employers. Intelligently written, tightly argued, and often heartbreaking, Natapoff's account is a worthy companion to Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow. Agent: Sam Stoloff, Frances Goldman Literary Agency. (Dec.)

Copyright 2018 Publishers Weekly.

Author Biography

Alexandra Natapoff is professor of law at the University of California, Irvine. A 2016 Guggenheim Fellow, she is also the author of Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice, which won the 2010 ABA Silver Gavel Award Honorable Mention for Books. She lives in Irvine, California. - (Grand Central Pub)


Takes a look at the inner workings of the massive petty offense system within the United States, exposing the consequences of this flawed system, including sending innocent people to jail and reinforcing racial inequities. - (Baker & Taylor)

A scholarly reinterpretation of inequality and injustice in America draws on extensive original research to reveal how a massive petty offense system produces more than 13 million annual cases and systematically stigmatizes minorities and the poor. 15,000 first printing. - (Baker & Taylor)

A revelatory account of the misdemeanor machine that unjustly brands millions of Americans as criminals

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

- (Grand Central Pub)

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