The Crime Conundrum: Essays on Criminal Justice

The Crime Conundrum: Essays on Criminal Justice

by Lawrence M Friedman
In this collection of essays, 15 leading historians, sociologists, criminologists, and legal scholars examine the capacity of the criminal justice system to contain the plague of crime. These essays explore what we can learn from our past errors and ask how social theories and empirical data can help to shape anti-crime policies of the future. 244 pp.


In this collection of essays, 15 leading historians, sociologists, criminologists, and legal scholars examine the capacity of the criminal justice system to contain the plague of crime. These essays explore what we can learn from our past errors and ask how social theories and empirical data can help to shape anti-crime policies of the future. 244 pp.

Editorial Reviews

Historians, sociologists, criminologists, and law scholars explore the degree to which the institutions of criminal justice are responsible for changes in the crime rate such as the sudden spike after World War II and the reduction of the past few years. Among the perspectives are age and homicide in different national contexts, crime and capitalization in the Czech Republic, trial by jury and the legitimacy of the courts, and governing through crime. The 12 essays were presented at an October 1995 conference at Stanford Law School. No index. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Raymond Paternoster
If you are at all interested in matters that pertain to criminal behavior, the courts, police, or criminal justice policy, imagine having at your disposal a book that contains the insights of fifteen of the best minds in criminology, sociology, psychology, political science, law, and history. Imagine that among them, these fifteen brilliant minds wrote twelve essays that not only reviewed much of the extant research in a specific area, but also provided the authors' own assessment of the state of knowledge. Imagine also that these twelve essays were all so well organized and their prose so concise and carefully chosen that no essay was longer than 36 pages, and the average was under 18 pages. Then, imagine that you could get all this in a hardbound book for only $59.00. Too much you ask, you say? Not so. Lawrence W. Friedman and George Fisher have together edited a most remarkable volume of essays whose subject matter consists of the most controversial policy debates among those interested in crime and criminal justice. The essays are what we have of the written record from a group of thirty renowned scholars who met at Stanford University Law School in October of 1995 as the Stanford Law School Conference on Crime and Criminal Justice. The book begins with an exceptional introductory essay by Friedman and Fisher that very precisely lays out the issues that confronted the conference participants: what do we know about criminal justice policy that works, what is the price of those policies, and is there any expectation we could do a better job? Essentially, Friedman and Fisher ask of the conference participants, "what do we know about what works in crime control", "what has failed", and "where should we go from here". What follows in the remaining eleven essays is discussion of one or more of these three issues. In sequence, the first essay is by the sociologist Elliott Currie. Currie's thesis is that both the currently very high levels of violence in the United States and the recent dramatic increase in violence in places like Russia and China is due to a common factor: the imperatives of the market society. To Currie, market societies are "Darwinian" in the sense that there are few safety nets or cushions to soften the blow for those who fare poorly in competition with other human beings over limited resources. A market society also breeds the crime that characterizes it by promoting socially destructive cultural values that atomizes individuals and hinders the development of a more communal and cooperative spirit. This market culture is reflected in such modern American staples as the down sizing of corporations, the ready availability of handguns, and the growing irrelevance and powerlessness of labor unions. In the next essay, lawyer and economist John J. Donohue seems to adopt the position that while everyone may be entitled to their own opinion about crime in America, they are not entitled to their own set of facts. Donohue notes that for the most part, non-violent crime in the United States is about on par with non-violent crime for European countries. What makes America unique is our high rate of violent crime, a rate, he notes, that is showing signs of a real decline. The end of Donohue's essay is a captivating but too brief discussion of the relative costs and merits of incarceration and crime prevention. Here is where I had my only disagreement with the organization of the book. I thought that Donohue's entry into crime prevention would have provided a wonderful segue way into Marc Miller's brilliant essay that occurs some six chapters later entitled, "Cells vs. Cops vs. Classrooms". In what was my own personal favorite essay, Miller discusses in great depth the tradeoffs in different crime policies. He does an exceptionally fine job in demonstrating that California's love affair with incarceration has impacted the budgets of other criminal justice agencies, and the delivery of educational services in the state. A mind-boggling statistic he reports is that in 1995 the California corrections budget exceeded the state budget for higher education. In spite of my personal preference for a different ordering, one will not be disappointed in the readings in between the Donohue and Miller essays. Nicely complementing the points in Donohue's argument, Rosemary Gartner points out that what makes America distinctive is its high rate of homicide, more particularly its unique level of young-male homicide. Questioning the position that homicide rates are virtually determined by the numbers of young males in a given population, Gartner notes that the relationship between age and homicide is not universal. She correctly implicates other, national or cultural factors, in the etiology of homicide. On the heels of Gartner's discussion of international homicide, is an exceptionally interesting essay by John Hagan and Deteling Radoeva on crime in the Czech Republic. While Hagan and Radoeva agree with Currie's thesis that the movement toward a market economy has brought rising levels of some kinds of crime in the Czech Republic, the centrally planned economy of the former socialist state was responsible for unmeasured amounts of financial (corruption) and environmental crimes. Such abuses of power, Hagan and Radoeva argue, demoralized Czech society. Such vast demoralization may be partially responsible for the emergence of criminal activity organized around drugs, weapons, and prostitution. In addition to direct concerns with public policy, some essays in this book also focus on more theoretical issues. Valerie Hans and Jonathan Casper's discussion of the role of the trial court and juries in affecting crime via deterrent and procedural justice mechanisms is followed by Daniel Krislov's fine essay on conservative and liberal crime polices in the United States over a thirty year period, and Richard Leo's piece on theories of policing. There is even something for pure historians in this fine book. The historian of crime, Eric Monkkonen, relates his attempt to capture accurate criminal homicide statistics for the city of New York from the late 18th century. The volume ends with two remarkable essays. In one, Jonathan Simon discusses his idea that in contemporary America, crime has become such a focal point that there is a trend toward "governance by crime" that is ultimately corruptive of democracy. Samuel Walker ends the book by reminding us that the crime debate has not been dominated exclusively by conservative themes, that the "war on crime" has produced some reforms (reduction in police brutality, greater concern for domestic violence, and a greater scrutiny of police behavior by the community) that reflect different values. The collection of essays provided by this book does with the printed word exactly what the conference was intended to do in person: get lawyers to converse with criminologists, and sociologists to engage in dialog and exchange ideas with historians and social psychologists. There are many points of view represented in this tiny volume, and many controversies aired. Unlike many such edited volumes, however, this one comes off like a well orchestrated opera rather than a cacophony of twelve separate arias. In sum, Friedman and Fisher have succeeded in producing a small volume of deep content, pleasurable reading, and substantial importance. In spite of the book's brevity, the issues discussed therein are not given "inch deep-mile wide" treatment. The essays are comprehensive, provide up-to-date information, duck no controversies, and show surprising diversity in presenting different sides to a given issue. What is also rather remarkable is that there are no weak links in this collection of essays. While readers will certainly have their personal favorites, all are satisfying.

Product Details

Westview Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.28(w) x 9.33(h) x 0.85(d)
1580L (what's this?)

Meet the Author

Lawrence M. Friedman is Marion Rice Kirkwood Professor of Law at Stanford University. Harry N. Scheiber is the Stefan Riesenfeld Professor of Law and History, Boalt Hall School of Law, in the University of California at Berkeley.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >