What Is a Criminal?
Answers From Inside the US Justice System
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Bringing together a collection of essays by writers with diverse knowledge of the US criminal justice system, from those with personal experience in prison and on patrol to scholarly researchers, What Is a Criminal? explores the category of "criminal" through the human stories of those who bear and administer that label.
This book performs a rare feat in bringing together the perspectives of justice-impacted people, those who work in law enforcement and social services, and scholarly researchers. Each chapter is a compelling narrative sharing the experience and perspective of a unique person with knowledge of the justice system. The first section, "Incarceration, Reentry, and Rebuilding," gives a glimpse into the "black box" of prison, with firsthand accounts of daily life on the inside and the struggle to begin a new life after prison. Section 2, "Journeys in Law Enforcement," presents perspectives from police officers, school resource officers, and corrections officers who are working to better their communities. The third section, "Ripple Effects," addresses some of the broader impacts of the justice system, showing what it is like to be the child of an incarcerated parent, to be profiled, to be an undocumented immigrant, and to make art about the justice system. The final section, "Scholarly Perspectives," is comprised of accessible articles by academics who study law and crime. Each chapter stands alone as an individual story, but taken together they provide a uniquely nuanced view of the US justice system.
This book will be of interest to anyone who wants to know more about criminality, the US justice system, and the people involved in it. It is designed for a general audience, with accessible, compelling stories that will appeal to a variety of readers. It is an effective text for college and high school courses about crime and criminality, and provides excellent fodder for discussion in law enforcement and social services training programs or professional development workshops.
Table of Contents
Katherine S. Gaudet
I: Incarceration, Reentry, and Rebuilding
1 Living Through a Life Sentence: An Insider’s View of Crime, Punishment, and How to End Mass
2 Three Former "Criminals"
3 Life Support: Organizing for Justice Inside and Outside of Prison
Jamel Muhammad, as told to Katherine S. Gaudet
4 Racism, Abuse, and Restorative Justice: What’s Wrong with Our Criminal Justice System, and How to Change It
II: Journeys in Law Enforcement
5 Not an Easy Job: A Police Officer Works to Better His Community in a Difficult Time
Lawan Cancer, as told to Katherine S. Gaudet
6 From Corrections Officer to Mental Health Court: New Approaches to People Who Commit Crimes
7 Labeling, Youth Culture, and Trust: Lessons Learned by a School Resource Officer
8 A Police Chief ’s Journey to Harm Reduction
III: Ripple Effects
9 Children of Criminals: The Hidden Victims of the Justice System
10 Living Undocumented
Translated from Spanish by Justin Mixon
11 They See Me as a Criminal: The Unrelenting Policing of Black Bodies
12 From the Hole to the Whole: A Filmmaker Learns to Look for Joy
IV: Scholarly Perspectives
13 What Causes Criminality? Sociological, Biological, and Psychological Theories
14 No "Criminal" Here: A Conviction Where There Was No Crime
Jessica S. Henry
15 Vera’s Family: The Community Context of Criminalization
Michelle C. Sermon
16 Wrongful Convictions of Queer People: Where Bias Meets Faulty Forensic Evidence
Valena Elizabeth Beety
17 Disability, Aesthetics, and the Making of a "Criminal"
Jasmine E. Harris
Katherine S. Gaudet is Associate Director of the University Honors Program and Faculty in Humanities at the University of New Hampshire. She holds a PhD in literature from the University of Chicago. Her scholarly interests revolve around the history of reading and how narratives shape social understandings of complex and difficult topics. She is currently working on a project about narratives of addiction.
"The best way to improve the criminal justice system and reduce incarceration is to keep people out of the justice system in the first place. Having worked as a career police officer and as a voice for reform, I believe What Is a Criminal? provides critical perspectives from those with lived experience on both sides of the law, academics, and reformers in understanding how to do so."
Lieutenant Diane M. Goldstein (Ret.), Executive Director, Law Enforcement Action Partnership
"Such a powerful combination of stories, narratives, and perspectives from scholars studying these issues. It was incredible to read the definition of what a criminal is before they walked us through their compelling story. Sharing the journeys of those in Law Enforcement is a great way to help change the narrative and humanize the work that is done in these fields. To end the book with the scholars is so wonderful. In legislative work, I tell people the only way we will ever get anything done is by combining the personal stories with the data. This book does that masterfully, and I can’t wait for others to read this and then have a desire to get involved in criminal justice reform work."
David Garlock, Criminal Justice Reform Leader