Crime & the Legal System

The law has long been an instrument through which fundamentally egalitarian ideals have been expressed (e.g., equal employment opportunity, equal access to schooling). At the same time, the legal system is itself a site of extraordinary inequality, as revealed in differential access to high-quality legal aid, differential arrest rates, or differential sentencing. The scholarship within this field addresses how law can be used as an instrument for equalization and how it can generate or express inequalities as well.

Inequality in the legal system

Is the law applied fairly to members of all groups? Are court-appointed attorneys providing an adequate defense for their indigent clients? Is the death sentence more likely to be imposed on African Americans than on whites? Who has borne the brunt of the historic increase in the incarceration rate? When prisoners are released, do potential employers then discriminate against them, thus creating an ever-larger underclass? How has the rise of privitized prisons affected how prisoners are treated? How has it changed the political processes (e.g., lobbying by the prison industry) that govern how large our incarcerated population will be?

Legislating equality

To what extent can poverty and inequality be addressed through legal remedies? Has affirmative action, for example, generated a new African American middle class? Are antidiscrimination laws well enforced? How might legal remedies evolve in the future?

"When the rich wage war it is the poor who die." - Jean-Paul Sartre

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