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Popular Justice - A History of American Criminal Justice

NCJ Number
S Walker
Date Published
286 pages
This book gives a brief history of American criminal justice and examines the changing patterns of criminal activity, the growth and development of the criminal justice system, and the major themes in the administration of justice.
The central theme revolves around the concepts of 'popular justice'. The special character of American criminal justice lies in the high degree of direct and indirect popular influence over its administration. This influence includes criminal codes written by democratically elected legislatures, the direct election of officials, and citizen participation on juries. This book argues that popular influence accounts for both the best and the worst in the history of American criminal justice. Moreover, some of the worst injustices have occurred when the public took the law into its own hands. The struggle for justice involves reconciling all the pitfalls of democratic principles with standards of fairness and equality. Other highlighted issues are the informal decisionmaking process that pervades the administration of justice; the arbitrary, capricious, and often discriminatory pattern in the administration of justice; and the influence of politics over the administration of justice. The book identifies the major periods in the development of the criminal justice system, from the small institutions of the colonial period, through the creation of the police, the prison, and the juvenile court in the 19th century, to the search for professionalism in the 20th century. Separate chapters focus on the crime control decades of 1919-1940; conflicting trends in criminal justice, 1940-1960; and crisis of crime and justice, 1960 to the present. Notes, an index, and approximately 25 references are provided. (Author abstract modified)


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