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In what is now a modern classic, issued in a 10th anniversary edition, Michelle Alexander informs readers how the mass incarceration of a disproportionate number of black men amounts to a devastating system of racial control. Despite the triumphant dismantling of the Jim Crow laws, the system that once forced African-Americans into a segregated second-class citizenship still haunts and the criminal justice system still unfairly targets black men and deprives an entire segment of the population of their basic rights. Outside of prisons, a web of laws and regulations discriminates against these wrongly convicted ex-offenders in voting, housing, employment and education. Alexander here offers an urgent call for justice.
From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America by Elizabeth Hinton
Publication Date: Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016
Elizabeth Hinton traces the rise of mass incarceration to an ironic source: the social welfare programs of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society at the height of the civil rights era. Johnson's War on Poverty policies sought to foster equality and economic opportunity. But these initiatives were also rooted in widely shared assumptions about African Americans' role in urban disorder, which prompted Johnson to call for a simultaneous War on Crime. The 1965 Law Enforcement Assistance Act empowered the national government to take a direct role in militarizing local police. Federal anticrime funding soon incentivized social service providers to ally with the criminal justice system. Under Nixon and his successors, welfare programs fell by the wayside while investment in policing and punishment expanded. Policymakers urged states to build new prisons and introduced law enforcement measures into urban schools and public housing, turning neighborhoods into targets of police surveillance. By the 1980s, crime control and incarceration dominated national responses to poverty and inequality.
Hard Bargains: The Coercive Power of Drug Laws in Federal Court by Mona Lynch
Publication Date: New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2016
Mona Lynch documents how prosecutors use punitive federal drug laws to coerce guilty pleas and obtain long prison sentences for defendants--particularly those who are African American-- and exposes deep injustices in the federal courts. As a result of the War on Drugs, the number of federal drug cases has increased fivefold since 1980. Lynch goes behind the scenes in three federal court districts and finds that federal prosecutors have considerable discretion in adjudicating these cases.Through extensive field research, Lynch finds that prosecutors frequently use the threat of extremely severe sentences to compel defendants to plead guilty rather than go to trial and risk much harsher punishment. The highly discretionary ways in which federal prosecutors work with law enforcement have led to significant racial disparities in federal courts. Legal reforms have shifted excessive authority to federal prosecutors, resulting in the erosion of defendants' rights and extreme sentences for those convicted.
Sentencing Fragments: Penal Reform in America, 1975-2025 by Michael H. Tonry
Publication Date: New York: Oxford University Press, 2016
In Sentencing Fragments, Michael Tonry traces four decades of American sentencing policy and practice to illuminate the convoluted sentencing system, from early reforms in the mid-1970's to the transition towards harsher sentences in the mid-1980's. The book combines a history of policy with an examination of current research findings regarding the consequences of the sentencing system, calling attention to the devastatingly unjust effects on the lives of the poor and disadvantaged. The book is enriched throughout by comparisons with data from other western democracies. Tonry concludes with a set of proposals for creating better policies and practices for the future, with the hope of ultimately creating a more just legal system.
We Keep Us Safe: Building Secure, Just, and Inclusive Communities by Zach Norris; Foreward by Van Jones
Publication Date: Boston: Beacon Press, 2020
Community leader and lawyer Zach Norris lays out a radical way to shift the conversation about public safety away from fear and punishment and toward growth and support systems for our families and communities. In order to truly be safe, we are going to have to dismantle our mentality of Us vs. Them. By bridging the divides and building relationships with one another, we can dedicate ourselves to strategic, smart investments--meaning resources directed toward our stability and well-being, like healthcare and housing, education and living-wage jobs. This is where real safety begins. We Keep Us Safe is a blueprint of how to hold people accountable while still holding them in community. The result reinstates full humanity and agency for everyone who has been dehumanized and traumatized, so they can participate fully in life, in society, and in the fabric of our democracy.
The First Civil Right How Liberals Built Prison America by Naomi Murakawa
Publication Date: New York : Oxford University Press, 2014
Naomi Murakawa inverts the conventional wisdom by arguing that the expansion of the federal carceral state - a system that disproportionately imprisons blacks and Latinos - was, in fact, rooted in the civil-rights liberalism of the 1940s and early 1960s, not in the period after it. Murakawa traces the development through several presidencies, both Republican and Democrat. Responding to calls to end the lawlessness and violence against blacks at the state and local levels, the Truman administration expanded the scope of what was previously a weak federal system. Later administrations expanded the federal presence even more. Ironically, these steps laid the groundwork for the creation of the vast penal system that now exists. What began as a liberal initiative to curb the mob violence and police brutality that had deprived racial minorities of their "first civil right" - physical safety - eventually evolved into the federal correctional system that now deprives them, in unjustly large numbers, of another important right: freedom.
Getting Tough: Welfare and Imprisonment in 1970s America by Julilly Kohler-Hausmann
Publication Date: Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017
Getting Tough sheds light on how the unprecedented growth of the penal system and the evisceration of the nation's welfare programs developed hand in hand. Julilly Kohler-Hausmann shows that these historical events were animated by struggles over how to interpret and respond to the inequality and disorder that crested during this period. When social movements and the slowing economy destabilized the U.S. welfare state, politicians reacted by repudiating the commitment to individual rehabilitation that had governed penal and social programs for decades. In its place, they championed strategies of punishment, surveillance, and containment. The architects of these tough strategies insisted they were necessary, given the failure of liberal social programs and the supposed pathological culture within poor African American and Latino communities. Kohler-Hausmann rejects this explanation and describes how the spectacle of enacting punitive policies convinced many Americans that social investment was counterproductive and the "underclass" could be managed only through coercion and force.
Locking up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman, Jr.
Publication Date: New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017
Caging Borders and Carceral States: Incarcerations, Immigration Detentions, and Resistance by Ed. by Robert T. Chase
Publication Date: Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, 2019
The Criminalization of Black Children: Race, Gender, and Delinquency in Chicago’s Juvenile Justice System, 1899–1945 by Tera Eva Agyepong
Publication Date: Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, 2018
In the late 19th century, progressive reformers recoiled at the prospect of the justice system punishing children as adults. Advocating that children's inherent innocence warranted fundamentally different treatment, reformers founded the nation's first juvenile court in Chicago in 1899. Yet amid an influx of new African American arrivals to the city during the Great Migration, notions of inherent childhood innocence and juvenile justice were circumscribed by race. In documenting how blackness became a marker of criminality that overrode the potential protections the status of "child" could have bestowed, Tera Eva Agyepong shows the entanglements between race and the state's transition to a more punitive form of juvenile justice. She expands the narrative of racialized criminalization in America, revealing that these patterns became embedded in a justice system originally intended to protect children. In doing so, she also complicates our understanding of the nature of migration and what it meant to be black and living in Chicago in the early 20th century.
Crook County: Racism and Injustice in America's Largest Criminal Court by Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve
Publication Date: Stanford, CA: Stanford Law Books, an imprint of Stanford University Press, 2016
Crook County bursts open the courthouse doors and enters the hallways, courtrooms, judges' chambers, and attorneys' offices to reveal a world of punishment determined by race, not offense. Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve spent ten years working in and investigating the largest criminal courthouse in the country, Chicago-Cook County, and based on over 1,000 hours of observation, she takes readers inside our so-called halls of justice to witness the types of everyday racial abuses that fester within the courts, often in plain sight. Crook County's powerful and at times devastating narratives reveal startling truths about a legal culture steeped in racial abuse. Defendants find themselves thrust into a pernicious legal world where courtroom actors live and breathe racism while simultaneously committing themselves to a colorblind ideal.
Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison by Nell Bernstein
Publication Date: New York: The New Press, 2014
One in three American children will be arrested by the time they are 23, and many will spend time locked inside horrific detention centers that defy everything we know about how to rehabilitate young offenders. In a clear-eyed indictment of the juvenile justice system run amok, Nell Bernstein shows that there is no right way to lock up a child. The act of isolation denies children the thing that is most essential to their growth and rehabilitation: positive relationships with caring adults. Includes first-person accounts of detention experiences from former youth offenders.
A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison by R. Dwayne Betts
Publication Date: New York : Avery, 2009
If They Come in the Morning... :Voices of Resistance by Angela Davis
Publication Date: New York: Verso, 2016; Originally published New York: Third Press, 1971
Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Y. Davis
Publication Date: New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
Call Number: Essential Read
Publication Date: New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2014
A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice. Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn't commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship--and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever. Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer's coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.
Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong by Brandon L. Garrett
Publication Date: Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011
In this unsettling in-depth analysis, Brandon Garrett examines what went wrong in the cases of the first 250 wrongfully convicted people to be exonerated by DNA testing. Based on trial transcripts, Garrett's investigation into the causes of wrongful convictions reveals larger patterns of incompetence, abuse, and error. Evidence corrupted by suggestive eyewitness procedures, coercive interrogations, unsound and unreliable forensics, shoddy investigative practices, cognitive bias, and poor lawyering illustrates the weaknesses built into our current criminal justice system. Garrett proposes practical reforms that rely more on documented, recorded, and audited evidence, and less on fallible human memory.
Exonerated: A History of the Innocence Movement by Robert J. Norris
Publication Date: New York : New York University Press, 2017
Good Kids, Bad City: A Story of Race and Wrongful Conviction in America by Kyle Swenson
Publication Date: New York : Picador, 2019
Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found by Gilbert King
Publication Date: New York : Riverhead Books, 2018
The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life, Freedom, and Justice by Anthony Ray Hinton
Publication Date: New York: St. Martin's, 2018
In 1985, Anthony Ray Hinton was arrested and charged with two counts of capital murder in Alabama. Stunned, confused, and only twenty-nine years old, Hinton knew that it was a case of mistaken identity and believed that the truth would prove his innocence and ultimately set him free. But with no money and a different system of justice for a poor black man in the South, Hinton was sentenced to death by electrocution. He spent his first three years on Death Row full of despair and anger toward all those who had sent an innocent man to his death. But as Hinton realized and accepted his fate, he resolved not only to survive, but find a way to live on Death Row. For the next twenty-seven years he was a beacon--transforming not only his own spirit, but those of his fellow inmates, fifty-four of whom were executed mere feet from his cell. With the help of civil rights attorney and bestselling author of Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson, Hinton won his release in 2015.
Solitary: Unbroken By Four Decades in Solitary Confinement - My Story of Transformation and Hope by Albert Woodfox
Nobody: Casualties of America's War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond by Marc Lamont Hill; Foreward by Todd Brewster
Publication Date: New York: Atria, 2017
They Can't Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America's Racial Justice Movement by Wesley Lowery
Publication Date: New York: Little, Brown, & Co., 2016
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Keeang-Yamahtta Taylor
Publication Date: Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016
Chokehold: Policing Black Men by Paul Butler
Publication Date: New York: The New Press, 2018
My Midnight Years: Surviving Jon Burge's Police Torture Ring and Death Row by Ronald Kitchen with Thai Jones and Logan M. McBride
Publication Date: Chicago, Illinois : Lawrence Hill Books, 2018
The Black and the Blue: A Cop Reveals the Crimes, Racism, and Injustice in America's Law Enforcement by Matthew Horace and Ron Harris
Publication Date: New York: Hachette Books, 2018
Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God by Kelly Brown Douglas
Publication Date: Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2014
Specific Police Departments
Occupied Territory: Policing Black Chicago from Red Summer to Black Power by Simon Balto
Publication Date: Chapel Hill : The University of North Carolina Press, 2019
In this history of Chicago from the 1919 Red Summer riot to the rise and fall of Black Power in the 1960s and 1970s, Simon Balto narrates the evolution of racially repressive policing in black neighborhoods as well as how black citizen-activists challenged that repression. Balto demonstrates that punitive practices by and inadequate protection from the police were central to black Chicagoans' lives long before the late-century "wars" on crime and drugs. By exploring the deeper origins of this toxic system, Balto reveals how modern mass incarceration, built upon racialized police practices, emerged as a fully formed machine of profoundly antiblack subjugation.
Policing Los Angeles: Race, Resistance, and the Rise of the LAPD by Max Felker-Kantor
Publication Date: Chapel Hill : The University of North Carolina Press, 2018
In Policing Los Angeles, Max Felker-Kantor narrates the dynamic history of policing, anti-police abuse movements, race, and politics in Los Angeles from the 1965 Watts uprising to the 1992 Los Angeles rebellion. Using the explosions of two large-scale uprisings in Los Angeles as bookends, Felker-Kantor highlights the racism at the heart of the city's expansive police power through a range of previously unused and rare archival sources. His book is a gripping and timely account of the transformation in police power, the convergence of interests in support of law and order policies, and African American and Mexican American resistance to police violence after the Watts uprising.
Race, Police, and the Making of a Political Identity: Mexican Americans and the Los Angeles Police Department, 1900-1945 by Edward J. Escobar
Publication Date: Berkeley : University of California Press, 1999
In this study, Edward J. Escobar examines the history of the relationship between the Los Angeles Police Department and the Mexican American community from the turn of the century to the era of the Zoot Suit Riots. Escobar shows the changes in the way police viewed Mexican Americans, increasingly characterizing them as a criminal element, and the corresponding assumption on the part of Mexican Americans that the police were a threat to their community. The broader implications of this relationship are, as Escobar demonstrates, the significance of the role of the police in suppressing labor unrest, the growing connection between ideas about race and criminality, changing public perceptions about Mexican Americans, and the rise of Mexican American political activism.
New York City
Fight the Power: African Americans and the Long History of Police Brutality in New York City by Clarence Taylor
Publication Date: New York : New York University Press, 2019