Since the inception of a state-run criminal justice system, many have debated and critiqued its features and goals. Often this dialogue takes place largely among academics and theorists with limited impact on policy and an even more marginal influence on the day to day reality of those most affected by the system. In every generation or so, however, a consequential movement emerges, for better or worse. These include movements regarding the evolution of the prison system, the creation of a rehabilitative juvenile court system, the implementation of “tough on crime” provisions of the 1980s, as well as others. With these types of exceptions, efforts to truly reshape the justice system often remain theoretical. In contemporary times, however, there is the potential for major reform of the criminal justice system as courts, states, and the federal government take some actions to recalibrate sentencing laws and procedures. Consequently, pundits and scholars author a plethora of books and articles about “criminal justice reform,” making it a hot topic for theory and academic discourse.
Many of these pieces, however, risk a lack of implementation because they do not recognize all the actors in the criminal justice system, but focus on a subset that is of interest to the author. As for the other actors, if authors recognize them at all, it is to pillory them as the problem “to be fixed,” rather than a stakeholder in the system with whom one should collaborate. Thus, some advocates for sentencing reform focus on the incarcerated individuals, often ignoring the offenders’ victims to a large part. Some characterize most prosecutors as unethical attorneys focused on conviction at all costs and law enforcement in an equally negative light. Conversely, advocates for a stronger law enforcement approach often focus solely on the victims’ experience, not considering the offender, and characterize the system of offender rights as a series of loopholes to impede justice. The result of this polarized discussion is that the needle moves very little to improve our system and the human toll is great.
In the midst of this, Samuel H. Pillsbury offers a new book—and a refreshing new perspective—that has the potential to move the needle to an improved criminal justice system. What makes Imagining a Greater Justice—Criminal Violence, Punishment and Relational Justice so potentially impactful is Pillsbury’s inclusion of the perspectives of all the actors in the system to produce a thoughtful analysis which understands the practical reality of an authentic criminal justice system, as well as the need to attain more for all.
Mary G. Leary, A Vision of Criminal Violence, Punishment and Relational Justice (reviewing SAM PILLSBURY, IMAGINING A GREATER JUSTICE – CRIMINAL VIOLENCE, PUNISHMENT, AND RELATIONAL JUSTICE), 17 OHIO ST. J. CRIM. L. 225 (2019).