POPULAR JUSTICE: A History of American Criminal Justice by Samuel E. Walker

POPULAR JUSTICE: A History of American Criminal Justice

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In the first general history of the American criminal justice system, Professor Walker (Criminal Justice, Univ. of Nebraska at Omaha) traces its foundations in colonial America (from transplanted European law to Quaker experiments and the impact of Enlightenment thought); the rapid development in the 19th century of police departments, prisons, and juvenile justice; and successive 20th century attempts--from Progressive to civil libertarian--to reform this cumbersome apparatus. Criminal justice in America, Walker argues, is unusually responsive to popular opinion, and while that seems consistent with popular democracy, it leads to corruption, political control of ""justice,"" and the ""delegated vigilantism"" of police brutality and behind-the-walls prison abuse. Moreover, with its wide allowances for informal ""discretion,"" American criminal justice has always been administered arbitrarily and capriciously in the interests of those in power. Race and class biases evident from colonial beginnings grew--under J. Edgar Hoover's powerful, manipulative hand--into federal police control of unorthodox political thought. Walker comes down in the end on the side of ""the rule of law"" instead of the rule of popular opinion; but--concluding that ""many criminal justice experts"" now feel ""at an impasse""--he offers no clue to achieving it. Instead, he runs shy of his own analysis; determined to hold the middle of the road, he argues that neither liberal hopes nor Marxist indictments are wholly valid. Walker's refusal to pursue his own conclusions often leaves the untutored reader wallowing in a slough of unfamiliar facts and bland generalizations. Still, for the layperson, this is the best introduction we have to a complicated and timely subject.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1979
ISBN: 0195074513
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press