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Charles Silberman (Crisis in Black and White, Crisis in the Classroom) surveys American crime and punishment to reach some Challenging conclusions. Violence, he says, is as American as Jesse James; booming crime rates since 1960 are merely a return to ""normal"" levels of violence after a strangely peaceable period in the Forties and Fifties. That poor people resort to crime (a choice between ""immediate gratification"" and ""no gratification at all"") is hardly news; but that poor black people turn to crime in disproportionate numbers (while Hispanics do not) raises fundamental and ominous questions about the place of crime in a racist society. The criminal justice system intended to cope with this violence is, in Silberman's view, both better and worse than popular opinion and conservative social critics maintain. It punishes the guilty and frees the innocent at an impressive rate, and treats criminals more severely (not more leniently, as popularly supposed) than it did a half century ago. The juvenile justice system, according to Silberman, is something else; more concerned with reforming ""pre-delinquents"" who might do harm than with punishing teen-aged offenders who have done harm, the ""tin god"" juvenile judges probably create more criminals than they deter. Traditional punishment, too, is a social disaster. Prisons have become enclaves of violence and oppression where black prisoners take revenge on whites, and reformist moves of liberal administrators have produced little but loss of control. If Silberman's hints at solutions--a few examples of effective programs to help the poor (and criminal) help themselves--seem lame, it is because the problems as he has described them seem so clear and overwhelming. This is a thoughtful book for everyone concerned with criminal justice--and for everyone who contemplates putting another lock on the door.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1978
Publisher: Random House