Punishment Without Crime: How Our Massive Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal
In the overburdened U.S. criminal justice system, with its burgeoning prison population, we hear a lot about felony convictions. Felonies are crimes usually punishable by a term of more than one year, or the death penalty. What we dont hear much about are misdemeanors, low level offenses punishable by fines or short terms of imprisonment in local jails.
With ten million petty cases filed annually, most U.S. convictions are misdemeanors. Unlike felonies, however, their processing is typically informal and deregulated. Much like fast-food justice, they have high-volume arrests, weak prosecutorial screening, an overtaxed defense bar, and high plea rates. There is often little meaningful scrutiny to see if convictions are supported by evidence. Innocent people who cant afford bail often plead guilty just to get out of jail.
What the result of misdemeanor convictions? Its pretty serious: stigma of a criminal record, misdemeanants are often heavily fined, incarcerated, and/or lose jobs, housing, and educational opportunities. Petty convictions are more frequent and burdensome even as we devote fewer institutional resources to ensuring their validity.
The misdemeanor phenomenon has profound systemic implications. It invites skepticism about whether thousands of individual misdemeanants are actually guilty. It reveals an important structural feature of the criminal system: that due process and rule-of-law wane at the bottom of the penal pyramid where offenses are pettiest and defendants are poorest. And it is a key ingredient in the racialization of crime. Misdemeanor processing is the way poor defendants of color are swept up into the criminal system with little or no regard for actual guilt.
In her new book, Punishment Without Crime: How Our Massive Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal, University of California Irvine law professor Alexandra Natapoff takes an in-depth look at the misdemeanor process is an institutional gateway that explains many of the criminal systems dynamics and dysfunctions.
Guest ” Alexandra Napatoff, University of California Irvine law professor and a member of the American Law Institute. She’s also a former federal public defender, a community organizer, and the recipient of an Open Society Institute Community Fellowship.
Kings Bay Plowshares 7
In our society nuclear weapons that can destroy all creation are taken as a normal, even an inevitable, part of life. In a dramatic action to break what they call the crime of silence seven Catholic peace activists entered the Kings Baytrident submarine base in Georgia last April to perform an act of symbolic disarmament.
They used hammers to follow the prophecy of Isaiah to beat swords into plowshares and poured blood to make holy what was evil in a sacramental action.
Kings Bay is homeport to six ballistic missile trident submarines, each of which deploy 16 trident missiles carrying four or more warheads of at least 100 kilotons. The Hiroshima bomb was 14 kilotons. Each submarine thus has the distructive power of at least 500 Hiroshima bombs.
The plowshares seven face up to 25 years in federal prison. Their trial is coming up in the next month. Theirs was the latest of 100 plowshares actions around the world since 1980.
Guest – Martha Hennessey, Kings Bay Plowshares 7 co-defendant, activist and volunteer with the New York Catholic Worker.
Guest – Carmen Trotta, Kings Bay Plowshares 7 co-defendant, activist and volunteer with the New York Catholic Worker.