Crime and Punishment in American History

Lawrence M. Friedman

Crime and Punishment in American History cover



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In a panoramic history of our criminal justice system from colonial times to today, one of our foremost legal thinkers shows how America fashioned a system of crime and punishment in its own image. Lawrence M. Friedman argues that the evolution of criminal justice has reflected transformations in America's character. Thus the theocratic world of seventeenth-century Puritanism generated a peculiar equation between crime and sin. The extraordinary geographic and social mobility of nineteenth-century America produced its own distinctive approach to crime and punishment. And the expressive individualism of the twentieth century encouraged an emphasis on "crimes of the self." Crime and Punishment in American History covers vast and fascinating terrain: the Salem witchcraft trials; the Red Scare after World War I; the rise of the American penitentiary; the emergence of the professional detective; the development of laws against fornication and gambling and the reform of rape laws; the rise of the insanity defense; the growth of a prisoners rights movement; and much more. It is about vigilantes, outlaws, embezzlers, swindlers, and what happened to them; about the growth of white-collar crime; and about revolutionary changes in the relationship between gender and criminal justice. Informed by the perspective of the social sciences, this book is a social history of crime and punishment, the story of the social reaction to crime. Not a history of criminal law or an intellectual history of penology or a treatise on the philosophy of good and evil, this book chronicles the development of a working system of criminal justice, from arrest to trial to prison and punishment. Serious crime has skyrocketed in our day, affecting the lives of millions of people directly and all of us indirectly. This elegant and magisterial history helps us understand why this is happening - where we have been and where we are heading. It is a story that needs to be told. Publisher's Weekly This wide-ranging history, full of quirky details and thoughtful analysis, is a valuable synthesis of research tracing the tensions between American liberty and its costs. Following a brief section on the colonial period and the role of religion and ideology in criminal justice, Friedman, a Stanford law professor, explores important changes in the 19th century, such as the evolution of penitentiaries, the professionalization of the police, the explosion of swindles in a newly mobile society. Approximately half the book is devoted to the 20th century, with its own increase of crime and controversies over such issues as plea bargaining, the death penalty and laws regulating morality. Friedman's predictions on the future are scanty and not particularly optimistic. He sees few practicable solutions for crime, which he views as an organic part of the society it preys upon. ``Perhaps--just perhaps--the siege of crime may be the price we pay for a brash, self-loving, relatively free and open society.'' History Book Club alternate. (Aug.) Booknews A panoramic history of the criminal justice system in the US from its colonial beginnings to the present day. Friedman (law, Stanford U.) shows how America fashioned a system of crime and punishment in its own image, and how the evolution of criminal justice has reflected transformations in America's character. Scholarly but nontechnical, and comfortably written for a wide readership. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR ( Susette Talarico Contemporary political rhetoric is full of law and order themes. In his recent State of the Union address, President Clinton focused atypical Democratic attention on crime, while New York's Governor Cuomo regularly invokes baseball analogies in his emphasis on "three strikes and you're out." Reminiscent of Republican oratory of the 1960s and 1970s, these and other Democratic politicians have clearly embraced the "get tough" perspective reflected in contemporary public opinion. Whether concern about upcoming election battles or sincere conviction that "tougher" policies are appr