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Usual Cruelty: The Complicity of Lawyers in…

Usual Cruelty: The Complicity of Lawyers in the Criminal Injustice System (utgåvan 2019)

av Alec Karakatsanis (Författare)

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygDiskussioner
292665,455 (4.5)Ingen/inga
"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"--
Titel:Usual Cruelty: The Complicity of Lawyers in the Criminal Injustice System
Författare:Alec Karakatsanis (Författare)
Info:The New Press (2019), 208 pages
Samlingar:Ditt bibliotek


Usual Cruelty: The Complicity of Lawyers in the Criminal Injustice System av Alec Karakatsanis


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Usual Cruelty: The Complicity of Lawyers in the Criminal Injustice System from Alec Karakatsanis is an impassioned and, at the same time, a very rational argument about the inequities in the "justice" system and the role, both knowingly and unknowingly, of lawyers in it.

While a short read and not a difficult one, it rewards a slow reading. I would suggest doing something similar to what I did, read through it once then go back and read more closely. While this method is generally for complex or extremely detailed books the rationale here is a little different. If you have any compassion for your fellow human beings, you will find yourself angered and often shocked at what passes for business as usual in our courts, namely our criminal courts. This can make registering the overall assessment and argument a little more difficult. So the first read allows you to fume and curse. The second read then allows you to catch the details and decide how you might be able to make a difference, through votes, through written protest, maybe through physical protest.

This is a collection of three essays with a very good introduction. The book as a whole serves as a recruitment tool aimed at young or soon to become lawyers to get them interested in fighting the good fight and not simply perpetuating the unjust and often illegal mechanization of the criminal justice system. That said, it works very well as a call to arms for citizens who actually want a just and moral country in deed and not just in word. For them, the first essay will be the most valuable and the most infuriating.

I think the book blurb gives enough of an idea of what the system does and what the book tries to do so I will only add that Karakatsanis does a wonderful job of presenting the information and making the case for a revamped justice system. If for some reason you believe the system is just fine as is, this is still a valuable read. What is presented are facts so if you are comfortable with them this gives you the opportunity to explain, even if only to yourself, why this is okay. This might show some flaws in your thinking to perhaps shift your position a bit, or it may show some serious defects in your character and no shift in your position. Either way, you'll gain a better understanding of what is happening and who you truly are.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley. ( )
  pomo58 | Oct 24, 2019 |
Alec Karakatsanis is an enormously passionate lawyer. Right out of school, he has been fighting for the poor and the abused, defending the constitution against all comers, be they judges, district attorneys or lawyers. His book, Usual Cruelty is a thoughtful and thorough examination of what is wrong with the criminal justice system from an abuse and civil rights standpoint. Despite having reviewed numerous other such books, I found this one thoroughly shocking, well-reasoned and personal, with a bent towards recognizing how to fix it all.

He calls the system the punishment bureaucracy. Everything it does seems aimed at putting people in cages and taking away their constitutional rights, as if that, somehow, will reduce crime. Of course it doesn’t. It just makes the USA the world leader in keeping people in cages. Nothing the system does is based on science. Its sentences, fines and bail have nothing whatever to do with what will make the country a better place. Or rehabilitate the accused. It’s so bad that in California Karakatsanis heard lawyers for the attorney general argue for higher bail on the premise that people facing bail should be presumed guilty.

He goes after big names, like Eric Holder and Kamala Harris, who bemoaned the potential loss of all that free slave labor if the system gets truly reformed. He is constantly astounded that judges dispense with constitutional rights or sentences or bail in any way connected to the accused before them. Karakatsanis is giving his life to change this, and encourage newly minted lawyers to join him.

He asks a lot of hard questions, like “Are we sure that putting human beings in cages is absolutely necessary to creating a world with fewer people smoking marijuana or physically harming other people?” He attacks the widespread policy of suspending drivers’ licenses for any offence at all. It is not only irrelevant to the crime, but all but ensures the accused will be nailed again for driving with a suspended license. Or worse, the accused not being able to drive at all. In California, more than four million drivers licenses get suspended for being too poor to pay fines, bail or court costs. Driving with a suspended license has become the number one crime in many jurisdictions, Karakatsanis says. “That crime serves no function other than to criminalize poverty.”

Americans are spectacularly good at criminalizing poverty. In Ferguson Missouri, police make an average of 3.6 arrest a year – per household. Inability to pay means more jail time, waiting for a trial, and often coming out even further in debt as the private sector jailers ensure inmates pay way too much for everything from aspirin to toilet paper. Some of these private services have contracts that require the state to keep the jails at least 90% occupied, and it sure isn’t with bankers and lawyers. Because the justice system provides discretion. The district attorney picks which crimes and accuseds to prosecute, letting off the wealthy and the privileged, and focusing on the poor. It’s what the laws were written to prevent, but Karakatsanis points out the gaping difference between the rule of law and living it. Hint - there’s no connection.

In a grueling hundred page essay, he lists all the offenses against the accuseds. They are mostly against nonwhites and the poor. He points out that the constitution stipulates pretrial incarceration as a “carefully limited exception,” but the skimming of bail money by judges, counties and private contractors ensures it applies to the vast majority of cases today. “Over 72% of federal criminal defendants are now confined to jail cells for the entire duration of their prosecution,” he says. 13 million are transferred from their homes to prisons every year, and 2.3 million are in prison on any given day. Nearly half a million are there for being unable pay a fine or post cash bail. The fine is most often for old traffic tickets, a scam of its own.

And that’s just the first chapter. The other two chapters are completely different. They are moral arguments to attract idealistic law graduates before they go corporate and forget their passions for justice. He argues every conceivable angle that might pass through a young lawyer’s mind. He flows from morality to reality to law and to justice. And guilt, as in conscience.

It’s a hugely passionate and horrifying story from the land of the free.

David Wineberg ( )
  DavidWineberg | Aug 2, 2019 |
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"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"--

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