Every few months I buy a new book on criminal justice containing the newest research to help keep me informed, and this one looked interesting after reading the review from the Wall Street Journal.
I went to Amazon and after reading the table of contents, decided against buying it, primarily because I have already obtained a 2011 book, Crime and Public Policy, which is an edited text book with several essays covering a broad array of criminal justice subjects, and secondly because Stuntz's book looked a little too focused on one area and one opinion, and wouldn't necessarily add that much to my library.
However, I did purchase, The Better Angels of Our Nature, which looks to be an extraordinary research project on violence, and about which I will let you know once I get a chance to peruse it.
Here is an excerpt from the Wall Street Journal review.
“How has the American criminal-justice system become one of the most punitive in the world without providing a corresponding level of public safety? In "The Collapse of American Criminal Justice," William J. Stuntz—a revered Harvard law professor who died of colon cancer earlier this year at the age of 52—offers a provocative big-picture answer.
“Perhaps aware that "collapse" in the book's title requires justification, Mr. Stuntz begins by reviewing some statistics. As he shows, in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, amid the largest crime wave in American history, the U.S. prison population declined. Imprisonment rates plummeted to some of the lowest ever seen in the modern Western world. High-crime neighborhoods, as Mr. Stuntz puts it, were "abandoned to their fate."
“The backlash to this crime wave was equally striking. Since the mid-1970s, America has punished crime more and more severely. New York's imprisonment rate, for example, has sextupled. In a span of a little more than 30 years, "America first embraced punishment levels lower than Sweden's, then built a justice system more punitive than Russia's."
“Mr. Stuntz readily acknowledges what many legal scholars do not: America's current lock-'em-up philosophy has dramatically helped to reduce urban crime. Since 1991, violent-crime rates have declined roughly a third nationwide and as much as two-thirds in a few cities (New York among them). Even so, Mr. Stuntz counts these declines as a pyrrhic victory, given that violence per capita in the U.S. today remains significantly higher than in 1950. And he is unwilling simply to assign all the credit for recent crime drops to increased punishment. He wonders, for example, why crime rates began falling only around 1991—two decades after prison populations started steeply rising.
“To unravel such complexities, Mr. Stuntz tries to place America's contemporary criminal-justice problems in their historical legal context. He first looks at the 14th Amendment's effort in 1868 to ensure that newly freed slaves received "the equal protection of the laws"—a promise that fell apart a few years later when the Supreme Court eviscerated the equal-protection guarantee and left generations of Southern blacks to be victimized by Klan violence. Mr. Stuntz argues that narrow equal-protection jurisprudence helps to explain why, nearly a century later, Chief Justice Earl Warren began spinning constitutional restrictions from the 14th Amendment's other important provision, the Due Process Clause.”