Justice Blind?: Ideals and Realities of American Criminal Justice / Edition 3

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Updated in a new 3rd edition, this book is rganized around a “planned change” approach and provides a critical assessment of how well the American criminal justice system achieves its goals. Unlike most other criminal justice books—which cover the traditional topics from the perspective of how “things are supposed to be,” this book compares these ideals with the realities of criminal justice today and provides a critical interpretation of the role of race, ethnicity, and gender in criminal justice.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780135147740
  • Publisher: Prentice Hall
  • Publication date: 2/21/2008
  • Series: Criminal Justice Interactive Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 3
  • Pages: 540
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Matthew B. Robinson is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice at Appalachian State University (ASU). He earned his Ph.D. in Criminology and Criminal Justice at the Florida State University in 1997. Robinson teaches and does research in the areas of criminological theory, the war on drugs, capital punishment, and injustices of the criminal justice system. He has published more than 50 pieces of research, including 6 books: Justice Blind? Ideals and Realities of American Criminal Justice (Prentice-Hall, 2002, 2005), Why Crime? An Integrated Systems Theory of Antisocial Behavior (Prentice-Hall, 2004), Spatial Analysis of Crime: Theory and Practice (with Derek Paulsen, Allyn & Bacon, 2004), Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics (State University of New York Press, 2007), and Death Nation: The Experts Explain American Capital Punishment (Prentice-Hall, 2008). He also has served as Board Member and President of the Southern Criminal Justice Association (SCJA). Robinson was awarded the William C. Strickland Outstanding Young Scholar Award from Appalachian State University in 2002.

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Read an Excerpt

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
– MARTIN LUTHER KING, "A Letter from the Birmingham Jail"

As eloquently written by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his letter from a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, when an injustice occurs anywhere, justice everywhere is threatened. King wrote this letter on April 16, 1963, after being jailed for "civil disobedience," a peaceful, nonviolent form of resistance. The letter was his response to criticisms that, as an "outsider" from Atlanta, he had no Business in Birmingham.

King countered:

I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham .... We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

S0, injustice anywhere in America is a threat to all persons living in the United States. And injustice in America is every American's business. The injustices of American criminal justice are the motivation for this book.

As children, we grow up reciting Francis Bellamy's Pledge of Allegiance, written in 1892. It states, "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation (under God), indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." With liberty and justice for all—this is the ideal we all pledge to assure. But what are "liberty" and "justice"? And does "for all" really include all of us?

When I began my collegeexperience as a criminology and criminal justice major, I had some ideas in my head about what agencies of criminal justice were supposed to achieve. I thought that police, courts, and corrections were supposed to protect us from harmful acts committed intentionally by other people. In my first semester, however, I learned that these agencies of criminal justice in the United States are focused on only a small portion of all harmful acts. Many other behaviors that are committed intentionally, acts that kill and injure people and result in loss of property, nevertheless are not "crimes" or are not vigorously pursued by such agencies.

Later, in graduate school, I learned about the massive criminal justice expansion of the last 30 years of the 20th century, an expansion driven not by facts about crime or increasing crime rates but by politics, fear, and the desire to be punitive—and at times downright hateful—toward certain segments of the population. To me, this incongruence between the ideals of American criminal justice and the realities of the American criminal justice didn't seem right.

How can the United States spend so much money and direct so much effort toward punishing a relatively small portion of harmful behaviors while virtually ignoring so many others? Why would we disinvest in the nation's future by overrelying on methods of crime control that we know are ineffective, while failing even to try methods that seem more promising? None of this seemed "just" to me.

If justice really meant what I had always thought it meant, how could criminal justice in the United States, of all places, be so unjust? That is the question addressed in this book. Justice Blind? Ideals and Realities of American Criminal Justice attempts to demonstrate how and why American criminal justice agencies fail to live up to their ideals and, thus, are unjust.

This book grew out of my experiences with teaching an introductory criminal justice course more than 30 times. Through my teaching, I realized that no introductory criminal justice text on the market exposed readers to the realities of criminal justice in the United States. This book strives to do that. THE MAIN ASSERTION OF JUSTICE BLIND?

The book proceeds from the following assertions:

  • Myths and stereotypes about crime, criminals, and criminal justice are created when acts are defined as crimes by the criminal law.
  • These myths and stereotypes are reinforced as the mass media broadcast stories about crime, criminals, and criminal justice.
  • These myths and stereotypes are also reinforced as police, courts, and corrections enforce the criminal law.
  • Because the criminal law in the United States is inherently biased against certain groups (e.g., the poor, people of color, and women), the activities of police, courts, and corrections are also biased against these groups.

This does not suggest that the U.S. media, police, courts, and corrections are intentionally biased. Rather, by focusing on those acts that come to be defined as "serious" in the criminal law, each of these institutions becomes biased in an "innocent" way. The figure on page xix illustrates how this "innocent bias" is created in the United States. The arrows suggest that each step of the process affects all other stages—that is, that myths and stereotypes about crime, criminals, and criminal justice created by the criminal law are strengthened as agencies of criminal justice and the media operate. Throughout this book, I elaborate on this process and provide evidence for the main assertions listed here. CHAPTER BY CHAPTER

The book is divided into four main parts. In Part I, The "Criminal Justice System": Ideals and Realities, I discuss the most important issues necessary to gaining a complete understanding of the reality of criminal justice practice in the United States. In Chapter One, I define the common term criminal justice system and show that there really is no such thing as a system of criminal justice in the United States. Nevertheless, I seek to identify the ideal goals of what I term the criminal justice network—that is, what American criminal justice is supposed to be aimed at achieving. At the end of Chapter One, in the Issue in Depth, I take a close look at Lady Justitia, whose image adorns the cover of this book.

In Chapter Two, I explore alternative goals of criminal justice, including serving limited interests and controlling the population. In this chapter, I discuss the role of politics and ideology in American criminal justice to provide a more realistic assessment of what criminal justice is really all about. These important topics were investigated briefly in Chapter One of the first edition but have been developed into a new chapter here so as to discuss them more fully. The new Issue in Depth at the end of Chapter Two examines the issue of what impact "McDonaldization" has had m American criminal justice, showing that the overriding ideology of American criminal justice clearly parallels that of our fast-food industry.

In Chapter Three, I begin my analysis of actual criminal justice practice with an examination of the lawmaking process. In this chapter, I explore American law, including types of law, purposes of criminal law, and a detailed examination of who makes the law and votes for it. I also provide a detailed satisfaction on how money shapes politics. A new section has been added that illustrates how the criminal law fails to protect Americans. A new Issue in Depth has also been added at the end of the chapter, examining laws that have been passed to fight terrorism in the United States. These laws erode basic freedoms and thus provide a good example of the struggle to balance crime prevention efforts with protections of our own rights.

In Part II of the book, Crime: Images and Realities, I discuss the most important issues necessary to gaining a complete understanding of crime in the United States. In Chapter Four, I define the term crime and lay out different types of crime in the United States. In this chapter, I also discuss different sources of crime data and then examine long-term crime trends. Most importantly, I identify the most dangerous forms of crime in America—white-collar deviance. A detailed examination of recent large-scale financial scandals involving companies such as Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, and many others is added in a new Issue in Depth at the end of the chapter.

In Chapter Five, I examine the role of the media in crime and criminal justice. Because no one can fully understand crime or criminal justice activity without understanding how these issues are framed in the mass media, this chapter is one of the most important in the book. I have added a new Issue in Depth to show how the tragedy of September 11, 2001, has been used for political gain and ratings by mainstream media outlets. My goal in this chapter is to illustrate how media inaccuracy drives dangerous criminal justice policies.

In Part III of the book, Components of Criminal Justice: Police, Courts, and Corrections, I discuss the basics of police, courts, and corrections (as in all introductory texts) and provide detailed, critical assessments of each component of criminal justice (unlike most introductory texts). In Chapter Six, I not only provide descriptions of who the police are, how policing is organized in the United States, and basic responsibilities of American police officers, but also carefully examine the realities of American policing. I introduce the concept of "innocent bias" to show the fundamental flaws of policing in the United States and examine differential stop rates and arrest rates and issues such as the use of force, opinion of the police, and corruption in American policing. The Issue in Depth at the end of the chapter deals with corruption in criminal justice generally and law enforcement particularly.

In Chapter Seven, I examine basic court issues such as the organization of courts in the United States, basic court functions, and responsibilities of the courtroom workgroup. I also discuss injustices in pretrial procedures such as bail and plea bargaining, as well as in trial procedures. I have added a new section on the imbalance of power in the court, demonstrating how power has been shifted from judges to prosecutors over the past 30 years. In the Issue in Depth at the end of the chapter, I examine the causes of wrongful conviction.

In Chapter Eight, I examine numerous aspects of punishment, including sentencing and justifications for punishment. In this chapter, I also examine the relative effectiveness of certain types of punishment and the issue of bias in the sentencing process. A new Issue in Depth has been added to the end of the chapter, in which I discuss the argument of a notable criminologist as to why we should expect American criminal punishment to fail to reduce crime appreciably.

In Chapter Nine, I deal with issues related to incarceration and compare America's incarceration rate with that of other countries. In this chapter, I illustrate who is in the nation's jails and prisons and what happens to inmates while in prison and after release. Finally, I explain how and why corrections reflects criminal justice bias. At the end of the chapter, I have added a new Issue in Depth that examines the emergence of the "Convict School of Criminology."

In Part IV of the book, Bad Criminal Justice Policy and How to Fix This Mess, I examine criminal justice practices that many people in criminology and criminal justice have now come to see as massive failures. In Chapter Ten, I discuss the most extreme form of punishment available, capital punishment. In this chapter, I discuss key death penalty facts and critically assess justifications for capital punishment. I also carefully examine the issue of public support for capital punishment and provide a thorough summary of alleged problems with the administration of the death penalty. The Issue in Depth is expanded to discuss findings from Parts I and II of a major death penalty report, which is a scathing indictment of the way we carry out capital punishment in the United States.

In Chapter Eleven, I discuss America's war on drugs, a significant part of America's war on crime. In this chapter, I examine the extent of drug use in the United States, harms associated with drugs, and provide a critical assessment of why some drugs are legal while others are not. Finally, using government data, I show precisely how the war on drugs causes more harm than it prevents. The Issue in Depth at the end of the chapter has been expanded and ends with a well-developed call for decriminalization of drugs.

In Chapter Twelve, I consider the implications of America's war on crime against relatively less powerful groups in the United States, including the poor, racial and ethnic minorities, and women. A new Issue in Depth has been added, one that examines the claim by a major civil rights group that American criminal justice practices pose a serious threat to civil rights.

Finally, in Chapter Thirteen, I conclude the book with a summary and a series of 50 recommendations for overcoming the problems identified in the book. I discuss the likelihood of success and end with a new Issue in Depth that documents various groups already working to overcome the problems outlined in the book and to achieve social justice. FEATURES

Justice Blind? contains several useful features for students of criminology, criminal justice, sociology, social problems, political science, and related disciplines. Each chapter contains an Issue in Depth section that explores one issue raised in the chapter. Each chapter concludes with a series of discussion questions that deal with the important material discussed. Finally, the web site for Justice Blind? (www.justiceblind.com) will continue to offer various forms of activities, links, and PowerPoint slides that students, instructors, and general readers will find useful. Throughout the book, highlighted key terms appear, which are listed on the web site and can be defined by students to promote active learning. TO THE READER

Unlike many introductory criminal justice texts, Justice Blind? contains a careful analysis of the role that race, class, and gender play in crime and criminal justice. The critical approach of Justice Blind? is also unique. Most introductory criminal justice texts start with the perspective that the American criminal justice system meets its ideal goals. They introduce and discuss main concepts and terms without offering critical assessments. I want you, the reader, to learn not only about the ideals of criminal justice in America, but also about the realities. Whereas other texts emphasize the way things are supposed to operate, this book places greater emphasis on the way agencies of American criminal justice system really operate.

This book focuses on injustice in criminal justice, an important topic for students and citizens alike to understand. Of course, people who study criminal justice and who work within agencies of American criminal justice need to gain an understanding of basic, introductory-level concepts and issues to become more knowledgeable and to become better employees. Many fine texts are on the market to meet this need. But this book takes a different approach: It begins with injustice as a problem.

In fact, I suggest that injustice is a social problem that plagues the United States. Lauer and Lauer (2000), in their book, Troubled Times, write that social problems begin "as a sense of something wrong in society—of suffering and deprivation growing out of a situation of injustice." I hope that this book convinces you that something is very wrong with criminal justice in America. I hope that, because of this work, injustice within American criminal justice will be viewed as a significant social problem. This is why several of the topics addressed in this book (e.g., the death penalty; drug use; the role of race, class, and gender in criminal justice) also may be appropriate for social problems classes.

As you read this book, I challenge you to keep an open mind. Do not allow your deeply entrenched beliefs about crime, criminal justice, or politics interfere with your understanding of the main argument of the book. If this reading has been assigned to you, remember that you do not have to agree with the arguments I put forth in this book, but you do need to understand them. In fact, I challenge you to read the book from a critical perspective, not automatically believing everything you read. Read the book from a perspective that will allow you to discover your own truth. Your own truth, after all, is the only truth that will matter to you.

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Table of Contents


Chapter 1 — What is the Criminal Justice System? Ideals

Chapter 2 — The Role of Politics and Ideology in Criminal Justice: Realities

Chapter 3 — The Law: Providing Equal Protection or Creating Bias?


Chapter 4 — Crime: Which is Worse, Crime on the Streets or Crime in the Suites?

Chapter 5 — “The Sky is Falling! The Sky is Falling!” Media Portrayals of Crime and Criminal Justice


Chapter 6 — Law Enforcement: To Serve and Protect?

Chapter 7— Right to Trial? Injustice in Pretrial and Trial Procedures

Chapter 8 — Punishment: Does it Work and is it Fair?

Chapter 9— Incarceration: Lock ‘Em Up and Forget About ‘Em


Chapter 10 — The Ultimate Sanction: Death as Justice?

Chapter 11 — The “War on Drugs”: Focusing on the Wrong Drugs?

Chapter 12 — The War on Crime as a Threat to Equality: Innocent Bias Against the Poor, People of Color, and Women

Chapter 13 — Summary, Conclusions, and Recommendations for the Future

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