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Comparison of Crime and Punishment in America by Elliott Currie And Justice Blind? Ideals and Realities of American Criminal Justice by Matthew Robinson I Similarities and Differences A. Overview 1. Type of book: a. Currie’s book looks specifically at myths and truths about crime and the prison system in the U.S.; the book is not intended to be a comprehensive examination of the justice system or the causes of crime. b. Robinson strives to expose readers to the realities of CJ in the U.S.; he attempts to demonstrate how and why our CJ system fails to live up to its ideals 2. Author’s purpose: a. Currie tries to separate truth from myth, to set the record straight, to break through some common misconceptions about crime, and to clear the ground for a serious discussion of where to go from here b. Robinson’s purpose is to expose the way our CJ system really operates, as opposed to other texts which emphasize the way things are supposed to operate; he wants to point out the injustices of American criminal justice 3. Theme of book: a. The theme of Currie’s book is that prisons are not effective at solving the violent crime problem in the U.S.; there is a gap between what criminologists know and what policy makers do because many get confused with the myths, misconceptions, and half-truths that get publicly discussed. b. Throughout his book, Robinson argues that “With liberty and justice for all” is the ideal we all pledge to assure, but what are “liberty” and “justice”? And who does “for all” really include? The theme throughout this book is that our CJ system has many injustices. 4. Focus: a. Currie focuses on prisons. They are not working to solve the violent crime problem. Currie tries to separate truths from myths about the prison system’s effect on violent crime. b. Robinson does not focus on a single area of the CJ system as does Currie. He focuses on injustices in several areas, including laws, crime, media, race, social class, drugs, law enforcement, trials, imprisonment, and the death penalty. B. Organization 1. Currie and Robinson organize their books differently. Currie’s book has 5 chapters discussing the “prison experiment,” prison myths, and three types of alternatives to imprisonment. Robinson uses about 200 more pages than Currie, and thus has more comprehensive coverage of our CJ system. He has 12 chapters in which he covers many aspects of the system, including law, crime, race, social class, gender, the war on drugs, law enforcement, the court system, punishment, imprisonment, and alternatives to current CJ practices. Robinson breaks down each chapter into sections, such as an introduction to each topic, an explanation of each topic, an examination of issues surrounding the topic, a close look at one issue in depth, and discussion questions. He also includes brief 1 or 2 sentence facts in highlighted boxes throughout each chapter. Currie lacks this structure. He does insert breaks into each chapter by numbering the sections, but they are not labeled. This makes Robinson’s book easier to read for class purposes, in which the reader is trying to really absorb the information. Currie’s book reads more like a novel, and less like an educational tool. On the other hand, Currie can get away with lacking such structure because he only covers one topic: the prison system, whereas Robinson has to have structure because he covers many topics. C. Topics 1. Criminal Law a. Robinson spends one chapter discussing criminal law. He answers the question: “What is the law?” and tells where the law comes from. He discusses types of law, the purpose of criminal law, and lawmakers. He covers this topic in a more thorough manner than does Currie. b. Currie spends only pages discussing law. He primarily focuses on the “Three strikes and you’re out law,” saying that there is no evidence that it will reduce crime. He says that the fact that we already give lengthy sentences to violent criminals explains why the rash of “three-strikes laws” had much less impact than many people expected. He also briefly discusses “zero-tolerance” laws. 2. Policing a. Robinson devotes a chapter to law enforcement in which he covers many issues. He discusses basic police roles and responsibilities of police, ways in which police serve victims, community policing, organization of law enforcement in the U.S., police discretion, the role of police in the war on drugs, profiling, stop and arrest rates, use of force, and police corruption. Robinson does a good job of covering many aspects of law enforcement. b. Currie spends significantly less time and space covering law enforcement. He is a proponent of community-oriented policing strategies because this links police closely with community residents- especially the young- in order to head off violence before it happens. He argues that police need to be accountable for what they do. He also says that law enforcement should be sharply focused and explicitly preventative. They should try to target sources of serious violence in hardest hit communities to try to prevent violence. 3. War on Drugs a. Robinson spends an entire chapter discussing this. He lists the goals of the war on drugs, defines what a drug is, describes types of drugs, the extent of drug use in the U.S., harms caused by drugs, legal v. illegal drugs, the role of media in drug scares, and the legalization of drugs. b. Currie mentions this topic briefly, saying the war on drugs has caused dramatic increases in black inmates sentenced for drug offenses. It has caused the nonviolent prison population to increase while the percentage of violent offenses decreases. He does spend a few pages on drug crimes. He says that joblessness can lead to illegitimate means of earning a living becoming more attractive (especially drug dealing), and this in turn generates violence. He does not come close to examining this issue as in-depth as Robinson. 4. Death Penalty a. Robinson examines the death penalty in one chapter. He begins by giving a brief history of capital punishment. He discusses general death penalty facts, such as the U.S. has 27 states that still use the death penalty (as of 1998). He lists death penalty offenses at the state level and at the federal level. He discusses public support for capital punishment. Robinson also includes a section in which he examines possible justifications for capital punishment, such as retribution, incapacitation, and deterrence. Finally, he discusses what is wrong with the death penalty. b. Currie, on the other hand, spends very little time discussing capital punishment. He mentions that the U.S. is the only industrial democracy that makes significant use of the death penalty for homicide. No single section or chapter is devoted to this topic; it is only mentioned briefly in a sentence here and there. 5. White Collar Crime a. Robinson spends one chapter discussing “Crime in the Streets” v. “Crime in the Suites.” He begins with defining crime, including the legal definition of crime. He discusses serious/street crimes and white collar deviance. He compares harms associated with crimes and noncrimes. He also talks about measuring crime using UCR, NCVS, and self-report studies. b. Currie focuses primarily on violent crime, and the effectiveness of imprisonment on this type of crime. He does not discuss white collar crime. 6. Media and Crime a. Robinson discusses the influence of media on crime in one of his chapters. First he discusses media in general. Next he tells what the media does and does not do, for example: media does not tell people what to think, but they may tell people what to think about. He discusses whether or not media affects people based on how much they are exposed to it. He talks about media coverage of crime and criminal justice, including what they cover and what they ignore. He says that critical coverage of crime and criminal justice is lacking in the U.S. The media simply cover what politicians promise about getting tough on crime because the media are caught up in the same “moral panic” about crime. He talks about media and fear of crime. He gives explanations of media inaccuracy, including the fact that reporters and others in the news business are not educated about crime and CJ, there is a peer culture among the media, (meaning they look to their colleagues and competitors to determine what is appropriate), the fact that media can be entertaining, and that politics and moral boundaries play a role in media inaccuracy. b. Currie barely touches on this issue. He says a few sentences about media reporting incorrect statistics. This is a concern because in his words, “How is the average reader of a newspaper going to know the statistics are wrong?” This is the extent of his coverage of media and crime. 7. CJ System a. Robinson begins his book with a chapter on the criminal justice system, its purpose, and the ideals and realities within it. He gives an overview of what the CJ system is and the typical CJ process. He lists ideal goals of the system, including doing justice, and reducing crime. He discusses conflicting views of justice, due process v. social control, and justice today. He talks about alternative goals of the CJ system, functions v. purposes of criminal justice, and the role of politics and power in criminal justice. He also discusses how criminal justice became so political and crime and politics today. b. Currie touches on the CJ system in general throughout the book, and he also devotes chapter 5 to it as he suggests that we need to rethink our justice system. He says that we need a strong and efficient justice system, and we need to figure out what works and what doesn’t. He argues that the problem is not that we have asked too much of the justice system, rather we have asked the wrong things. It is not that we spend too much on CJ as opposed to other social needs, but that we spend unwisely and heedlessly and as a result the CJ system is out of balance. He emphasizes that building a reintegrative justice system requires us to reopen the question of whom we are putting in prison and what we hope to accomplish by doing so. He says we need to shift CJ resources toward promising community-oriented policing strategies. 8. Courts a. Robinson discusses the court system in a chapter titled, “Right to Trial? Injustice in Pretrial and Trial Procedures.” He begins by going over the U.S. court structure, and what courts do. He discusses courtroom workgroups and plea bargaining. He talks about the unequal right to a defense in the U.S. and public v. private attorneys. He also talks about the rare case of a trial, including stages of the criminal trial. b. Currie does not spend too much time on this. He says that for property crimes, the U.S. sweeps more offenders who come before the courts into jail or prison. Additionally, once behind bars, Americans tend to stay there longer. He talks about rigid mandatory sentences that have reduced discretion in the justice system. 9. Social class/Race/Gender a. Robinson covers all three of these areas in one chapter titled, “The War on Crime: Innocent Bias Against the Poor, People of Color, and Women.” He starts with discussing whether the war on crime is a war on the poor. He talks about race, ethnicity, social class, and degrees of discrimination. He also discusses race, ethnicity, and criminality. He talks about gender and CJ as well. b. Currie does not discuss these issues in any specific chapter; rather he mentions this throughout the book. He discusses issues involving black men and women and the prison population, youth violence, and unemployment. He discusses parenting and the effect of poverty on black children. He discusses death rates and prison populations of Hispanics as well. He mentions racism and its role in the CJ system. On the topic of women, he talks about mothers in prison, single mothers, and battered women. He talks about the prison population of men, and male unemployment. He also discusses class, race, and gender as social factors in crime. 10. Punishment and Imprisonment a. Robinson discusses punishment and imprisonment in two separate chapters. In the chapter on punishment he begins with an introduction to sentencing, including what sentencing is, types of sentences, and facts on sentencing. He explains why we punish, such as retribution, incapacitation, deterrence, and rehabilitation. He goes over methods of punishment and whether punishment is effective. He also discusses bias in the sentencing process. In his chapter on imprisonment, Robinson discusses America’s incarceration rate, costs of imprisonment, and demographics of who is in prison. He goes over the pains of imprisonment, including loss of liberty, loss of autonomy, deprivation of heterosexual relationships, loss of security, loss of voting rights, loss of dignity, and stigmatization. He discusses parolees and how and why corrections reflect criminal justice bias. b. Essentially, Currie’s entire book is about punishment and imprisonment. He discusses the prison “experiment” and gives an assessment of it. He discusses reasons for imprisonment, such as deterrence, rehabilitation, and incapacitation, etc, just as Robinson. He dispels several myths about the prison system. He also suggests alternatives to imprisonment, or at least to using this as our primary form of punishment. These alternatives include prevention and early intervention before children and adolescents become involved in crime, social action to solve problems of economic deprivation and inequality, and rethinking the purposes of our justice system. 11. Looking to the Future a. Robinson includes a section in which he discusses alternatives to current CJ practices. He admits that he has done a lot of criticizing thus far in the book, and recognizes that he should also provide suggestions to change these problems. To do this, he includes 50 suggestions for creating positive change in our CJ system. b. In addition to his three chapters on alternatives, Currie also concludes with a section on choices. He says that we need to make decisions about how to deal with crime, and we must realize that these will affect almost everything else in American public life. He emphasizes that in a civilized society such as ours, it isn’t just whether we reduce crime that matters, but how we reduce crime. 12. Summary and Opinion a. Advantages of each book: Robinson provides a much better overview of our CJ system than does Currie. However, Currie’s book is good for getting in-depth discussions of the prison system. b. Disadvantages of each book: Robinson’s book seems somewhat like an introductory text. Currie can be longwinded at times, and his book has fewer divisions and subheadings, making it seem like each section is quite long.
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