Punishment Without Crime provides a sweeping and revelatory new account of America's broken criminal justice system from the perspective of the paradigmatic American crime-the lowly misdemeanor. While felony trials grab headlines, the petty offense system is far more representative of criminal justice as most Americans actually encounter it. Petty offenses make up 80 percent of state and local criminal dockets; over 13 million misdemeanor cases are filed every year, four times the number of felony cases. Misdemeanors are one of the largest and most unappreciated causes of our criminal system's size and its harshness-and a crucial source of American inequality. Misdemeanor cases are by definition minor, but their impact is not. Each year, the petty offense process sweeps millions of people from arrest to a guilty plea or conviction. In effect, police get to decide who will be convicted of minor crimes, simply by arresting them for offenses like driving on a suspended licenses, marijuana possession, disorderly conduct, and loitering. In thousands of low-level courts around the country, prosecutors do little vetting, most defendants lack lawyers, legal rules and evidence are often ignored, and judges process cases in minutes or even seconds. The consequences are serious and lasting: stigmatizing criminal records, burdensome fines, jail for those who can't afford to pay bail or fees, and collateral effects including loss of jobs, housing, and benefits. Punishment Without Crime offers an urgent new explanation for America's racial and economic inequalities, showing starkly how misdemeanor arrests and prosecutions brand vast numbers of disadvantaged Americans as criminals and punish them accordingly. For the first time, prize-winning legal scholar Alexandra Natapoff illuminates the full scale, scope, and workings of the misdemeanor process, drawing on never-before-compiled data as well as revealing narrative examples. The misdemeanor system, she reveals, targets and stigmatizes racial minorities as criminals, exacerbates economic inequality by funding its own operation through fines and fees, and produces wrongful convictions on a massive scale. For too long, misdemeanors have been ignored as petty. Reckoning with the misdemeanor machine is crucial to understanding America's punitive and unfair criminal justice system and our widening economic and racial divides.
An essential contribution to the fields of criminology and sociology. --CHOICE A sweeping look at the misdemeanor system and its impact on the American people.... Misdemeanor courts wield the bluntest, dumbest and cruelest instruments of the justice system, a host of biased codes called 'order-maintenance' crimes. What Punishment Without Crime makes clear is whose order, exactly, is being maintained. --Paste Intelligently written, tightly argued, and often heartbreaking, Natapoff's account is a worthy companion to Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow. --Publishers Weekly (starred review) Natapoff's presentation of her meticulously researched data is impressive...A searing, groundbreaking study of criminology and sociology. --Kirkus Reviews (starred review) This is an indispensable book for understanding the real American criminal courts-emphatically not the version familiar from film and television. The millions processed through our misdemeanor courts every year-overwhelmingly poor and people of color-rarely receive anything like procedural justice and often are burdened with stigma and harsh collateral consequences that lock them into disadvantage. Understanding and repairing this broken system is of the utmost importance if we want to be able to call our criminal courts a system of justice. --Carol S. Steiker, Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law and codirector of the Criminal Justice Policy Program, Harvard Law School Punishment Without Crime is a searing indictment of our petty offense system. Through meticulous original research, heartbreaking stories, and pioneering insights, Alexandra Natapoff's book is a masterful critique of an overlooked but essential component of our criminal justice system's punitive machinery. Her account exposes how race and poverty intersect within the misdemeanor system to punish the innocent; create, perpetuate, and reinforce racial inequities; and fuel mass incarceration. Accessible, powerful, and illuminating, Punishment Without Crime will become essential to all future discussions of the criminal justice system's role in shaping the racial and social order of our nation. --L. Song Richardson, dean and chancellor's professor of law, University of California, Irvine School of Law This important book completely upends the criminal justice conversation. Natapoff documents dark truths about the misdemeanor process-how it forces the innocent to plead guilty, how it disregards basic legal rights, and how it inflicts deep injustice. Her insights inspire both outrage and innovation. Punishment Without Crime provides a terrific new understanding of a flawed criminal system, and it offers a much-needed path toward the fair and just criminal system America deserves. A necessary book for our times. --Barry Scheck, cofounder of the Innocence Project