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Friday, April 13, 2018

In Defense of Criminal Justice Books

I really enjoyed Professor Carissa Hessick’s post in defense of law reviews as well as the resulting thoughtful commentary about the subject.  I don’t necessarily want to engage in that debate, but offer a related defense of books.

Scholars have always written books as well as traditional law review scholarship.  Some books are scholarly, some are not.  Some have price points that only libraries and family relations buy, and some are priced for ordinary readers (or those few people who still buy books).  Some are descriptive, or historical, or critical, or literary, and some are political and of cultural relevance.  I don’t want to generalize because there are over 300,000 books published in the US every year, and many in the legal academy have written, edited, contributed, or enjoyed different types of books.  

But, I do want to comment on a phenomenon in the criminal justice space.  About, how in 2017 books by law professors began driving the national conversation about criminal justice reform.  These books were scholarly and also impactful in terms of generating interest in the ideas they were addressing.  These books were reviewed by mainstream news outlets, and the resulting media coverage elevated both the scholars and their ideas.  While many of these ideas were also featured in law reviews articles, publication of the book provided a broader platform for scholarly ideas and impact.     

Here are a few books from 2017 (and I would encourage others to add to this list):

As in all things, one can debate the merits of different forms of scholarship, but I would argue that writing a book offers a form of expertise and legitimacy that while not superior to traditional scholarship has more currency to shape ideas.  In writing about criminal justice reform, the type of format has a distinct advantage in generating interest in the underlying ideas and sometimes changes in law, policy, or consciousness.   

The question for law professors is what are the costs and benefits of this form of scholarship.  Should the recent interest in books shape how professors prioritize their publication choices?  Should this phenomenon be resisted or encouraged by the legal academy?

Posted by Andrew Guthrie Ferguson on April 13, 2018 at 11:01 AM | Permalink


Well, you really have suggested some good books, thanks for this tip. Criminal lawyers can get enormous benefit from it.
Tracy Gill

Posted by: Tracy Gill | Sep 28, 2018 8:56:55 AM

”Mass incarceration is one of the greatest social problems facing the United States today”

An even bigger problem would be upon us if those presently incarcerated were not incarcerated.

Posted by: TeeJaw | Apr 15, 2018 2:59:09 PM

Some readers may be interested in the (fairly comprehensive) bibliographies on “criminal law” (with sections on both municipal and international criminal law), “punishment and prisons,” and “capital punishment,” all of which are available at my Academia(dot)edu page. If you have problems viewing or downloading you can e-mail me and I will send a copy of any list that interests you.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Apr 14, 2018 11:47:02 AM

In this regard ( " bail trap " and alike ) recommended :


Posted by: El roam | Apr 14, 2018 6:40:51 AM

Agreed. Everyone should read Shima’s book. Apologies for the omission.

Posted by: Andrew Ferguson | Apr 13, 2018 4:36:03 PM

Just about the author of the book mentioned :

" Professor Baradaran's research focuses on criminal law, criminal procedure, international law and international criminal law. She has worked with economists and political scientists to do empirical work, including the largest international randomized controlled trial. Her work has been published in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies and top law reviews including the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Texas Law Review, Georgetown Law Review, Minnesota Law Review and other top journals. "

Here :


And here , one may read in NYT about the " bail trap " :



Posted by: El roam | Apr 13, 2018 4:25:01 PM

Great post . Indeed , sometimes , a scholar in a field, may give up subjective perception concerning prestige or alike ( emphasizing subjective ) and contribute to his country by enhancing awareness to certain critical public issue . I mean , many in the US , are debating political issues . But finally , what prevails , is typically the legal norm . Why a decent professor for sociology for example , needs to feel frustrated , without understanding , what the hell they are talking and writing about , those legal experts . Because , the latter , seal the fate of the nation and the public . ( look for example the issue of Trump , the pardon power , the self pardon , obstruction of justice and so forth , in the current Russian interference with the election ) . Legal issues , have typically always to do with public issues and politics , affecting all in fact .

And here a is book , concerning a very hot issue has to do with reforming the criminal justice system in the US :

The Bail Book: A Comprehensive Look at Bail in America's Criminal Justice System

And Short introduction to it :

Mass incarceration is one of the greatest social problems facing the United States today. America incarcerates a greater percentage of its population than any other country and is one of only two countries that requires arrested individuals to pay bail to be released from jail while awaiting trial. After arrest, the bail decision is the single most important cause of mass incarceration, yet this decision is often neglected since it is made in less than two minutes. Shima Baradaran Baughman draws on constitutional rights and new empirical research to show how we can reform bail in America. Tracing the history of bail, she demonstrates how it has become an oppressive tool of the courts that disadvantages minority and poor defendants and shows how we can reform bail to alleviate mass incarceration. By implementing these reforms, she argues, we can restore constitutional rights and release more defendants, while lowering crime rates.

Here :



Posted by: El roam | Apr 13, 2018 12:09:03 PM

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