Punishment Without Crime: How Our Massive Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal

Alexandra Natapoff. Basic, $30 (352p) ISBN 978-0-465-09379-3
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.)
Reviewed on: 10/29/2018
Release date: 12/31/2018
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