Alec KarakatsanisJun 23, 2021
The Complicity of Lawyers in the Criminal Injustice System
New Press 2019
From an award-winning civil rights lawyer, a profound challenge to our society's normalization of the caging of human beings, and the role of the legal profession in perpetuating it Alec Karakatsanis is interested in what we choose to punish.
Usual Cruelty: The Complicity of Lawyers in the Criminal Injustice System (New Press, 2019) is a profoundly radical reconsideration of the American "injustice system" by someone who is actively, wildly successfully, challenging it.
For example, it is a crime in most of America for poor people to wager in the streets over dice; dice-wagerers can be seized, searched, have their assets forfeited, and be locked in cages. It's perfectly fine, by contrast, for people to wager over international currencies, mortgages, or the global supply of wheat; wheat-wagerers become names on the wings of hospitals and museums. He is also troubled by how the legal system works when it is trying to punish people. The bail system, for example, is meant to ensure that people return for court dates. But it has morphed into a way to lock up poor people who have not been convicted of anything. He's so concerned about this that he has personally sued court systems across the country, resulting in literally tens of thousands of people being released from jail when their money bail was found to be unconstitutional. Karakatsanis doesn't think people who have gone to law school, passed the bar, and sworn to uphold the Constitution should be complicit in the mass caging of human beings--an everyday brutality inflicted disproportionately on the bodies and minds of poor people and people of color and for which the legal system has never offered sufficient justification.
**Special announcement for teachers: Usual Cruelty is available free of charge for your students and for each student assigned a complimentary copy of Usual Cruelty will be circulated in prisons. Learn more https://thenewpress.com/books/...
Lee M. Pierce (she/they) is an Assistant Professor at SUNY Geneseo specializing in rhetoric, race, and U.S. political culture. They also host the Media & Communications and Language channels for New Books Network and their own podcast titled RhetoricLee Speaking.