Criminal Justice

A Criminal Justice Reading List

Prepared by Clark Neily

First Principles

In the Name of Justice,edited by Timothy Lynch (Cato Institute, 2009)
This book contains essays by leading legal thinkers that examine the role of the criminal sanction in a free society. 

The Collapse of American Criminal Justice by William J. Stuntz (Belknap Press, 2013)
A deep dive into the dramatic history of American crime and the erosion of rule of law in America’s harsh and ineffective criminal justice system.

The Importance and Challenges of a Well‐​Functioning Criminal Justice System

Pirates, Prisoners, and Lepers: Lessons from Life Outside the Law by Paul H. Robinson and Sarah M. Robinson (2015)
Examines Molokai leper colony, Nazi prisoners, and 18th Century pirates to explore human nature beyond law; suggests humans are predisposed to cooperation and provides a comprehensive argument for why we need a well‐​functioning criminal justice system.

Fundamental Pathologies in Our Current Criminal Justice System

Conviction Machine: Standing Up to Federal Prosecutorial Abuse by Harvey Silverglate and Sidney Powell (Encounter Books, 2020)
Provides an unsparing indictment of the criminal justice system, including particularly overcriminalization and the nefarious tactics used by prosecutors bent on winning at all costs.

Cardiac Arrest: Five Heart‐​Stopping Years as a CEO on the Feds’ Hit‐​List by Howard Root and Stephen Saltarellli (BookBaby, 2017)
Provides a firsthand account of what it is like for an innocent person to be targeted by overzealous federal prosecutors determined to obtain a conviction by any means necessary, including threatening witnesses, deceiving a grand jury, and cynically leaking sealed court documents. Featured in November 2017 Cato policy forum.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (One World, 2015)
True story of a young civil‐​rights lawyer as he takes on the case of an innocent man sentenced to death for a racially charged murder. In exposing the corruption of a particular prosecution, the book suggests that the rot goes deeper and wider than that one case. Recently adapted into a feature film, starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx.

The System’s Overreliance on Coercive Plea Bargaining

Confronting Underground Justice: Reinventing Plea Bargaining for Effective Criminal Justice Reform by William R. Kelly & Robert Pitman (Basic Books, 2017)
Provides and exhaustive look at the rise of plea bargaining as the default mechanism by which nearly all criminal charges are adjudicated in America today and the documents the many serious pathologies with the modern plea‐​bargaining system.

Torture and Plea Bargaining by John Langbein (University of Chicago Law Review 1978)
Offers a chilling comparison between the use of judicially sanctioned torture to obtain confessions in medieval Europe and the central role of coercion in American‐​style plea bargaining.

Mass Incarceration

Prisoners of Politics: Breaking the Cycle of Mass Incarceration by Rachel E. Barkow (Belknap Press, 2019)
Explains how criminal justice policy and mass incarceration is driven by irrational fears stoked by politicians seeking re‐​election. Featured in March 2019 Cato book forum.

Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration‐​and How to Achieve Real Reform by John Pfaff (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2018)
Challenges the widely accepted explanations of exploding incarceration–the War on Drugs, oppressive sentencing laws, private prisons; sounds the alarm on the shift towards overly aggressive prosecutor behavior since the mid-1990’s. Featured in April 2017 Cato book forum.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander (2012)
Offers a provocative take on the fact of massive racial disparities in America’s criminal justice system, arguing a significant role of that system is to provide a modern framework for continuing the historical oppression and exploitation of African‐​Americans.

Punishment Without Crime: How Our Massive Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal by Alexandra Natapoff (2018)
Sheds light on the unappreciated fact that most criminal prosecutions are for misdemeanors, including conduct that should not be criminalized in the first place, and also describes the shocking lack of due process and other constitutional compliance in misdemeanor prosecutions. Reviewed in Spring 2019 issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

On Policing

Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces by Radley Balko (Public Affairs, 2014)
Traces the history of police militarization, including the creation, deployment, and abuse of SWAT teams. Features powerful statistics and anecdotal evidence supporting the thesis that American police have become far more militarized and inclined to use disproportionate amounts of violence than is healthy in a liberal democracy.

Unwarranted: Policing Without Permission by Barry Friedman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018)
Comprehensive primer on the nature of modern policing and its pathologies, with particular emphasis on the erosion of the Fourth Amendment as a protection against unduly aggressive and intrusive law enforcement.

Jury Nullification

Jury Nullification: The Evolution of a Doctrine by Clay Conrad, (Cato Institute, 2013)
Key resource on the history of jury independence, the practical and political implications of jury nullification, and the ability of criminal juries to protect citizens from overweening government.