We live in the midst of what may be the most visible and transformative government intervention since the 1960s. The number of prisoners has multiplied fivefold in just 35 years. At the same time, other types of criminal justice contact—from the use of misdemeanor charges (Natapoff 2012) to stop-and-frisks (to brief detentions based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity rather than probable cause)—have dramatically increased as well (Fagan et al. 2010). In the words of historian William Novak, “The power of the U.S. government to regulate, study, order, discipline, and punish its citizens . . . has never been greater” (2008, 760).
This power has not been felt equally by all Americans. For most, it is virtually invisible. For men of color—especially those who reside in the poorest neighborhoods—and for the people close to them, it is the most sustained and consequential interaction with government that they experience, and among the most pervasive features of their social lives.
In short, criminal justice has become a key way that citizens and communities interact with their state. And yet we know strikingly little about its political and civic consequences. In this volume, a set of distinguished scholars from many disciplines considers these effects.