Privilege and Punishment: How Race and Class Matter in Criminal Court

Princeton Univ. Nov. 2020. 312p. ISBN 9780691194332. $29.95. LAW
Clair (sociology, Stanford Univ.) argues that economically disadvantaged people of color face an especially heavy burden when navigating the criminal justice system. Through interviews with defendants, judges, police officers, attorneys, and probation officers and by attending criminal hearings in Boston, the author learned about ways in which the scales are tipped in favor of prosecutors and the courts and considers the role of privilege in criminal proceedings. While initially Clair assumed that impoverished defendants generally listen to counsel and privileged people are prone to asserting their rights, he found the opposite: Working-class people of color are eager to advocate for themselves but are more likely to be punished or coerced by their legal representation for doing so, whereas those with privilege tend to rely on the expertise of their attorney and are rewarded for compliance. The cases brought into focus as a result of Clair’s fieldwork shed light on many institutional and societal failures that have resulted in an unequal, punishing system for disadvantaged defendants.
VERDICT A well-researched, eye-opening study that will appeal to readers of criminal justice and sociology.
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