Book

Misdemeanorland

Cover of the book titled "Misdemeanorland."

Issa Kohler-Hausmann, associate professor of law and of sociology

(Princeton University Press)

Felony conviction and mass incarceration attract considerable media attention, yet the most common criminal justice encounters are for misdemeanors, not felonies, and the most common outcome is not prison. In the early 1990s, New York City launched an initiative under the banner of “Broken Windows” policing to dramatically expand enforcement against low-level offenses. “Misdemeanorland” is the first book to document the fates of the hundreds of thousands of people hauled into lower criminal courts as part of this policing experiment.

Drawing on three years of fieldwork inside and outside of the courtroom, in-depth interviews, and analysis of trends in arrests and dispositions of misdemeanors going back three decades, Issa Kohler-Hausmann argues that lower courts have largely abandoned the adjudicative model of criminal law administration in which questions of factual guilt and legal punishment drive case outcomes. Due to the volume of arrests, lower courts have adopted a managerial model — and the implications, she contends, are troubling. Kohler-Hausmann shows how significant volumes of people are marked, tested, and subjected to surveillance and control even though about half the cases result in some form of legal dismissal. She describes in detail how the reach of America’s penal state extends well beyond the numbers of people incarcerated in prisons or stigmatized by a felony conviction.

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