Crime and Punishment in American History (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
About three and a half centuries ago, there was a stir in the colony of New Haven, Connecticut. A sow had given birth to a “monstrous” piglet. In the minds of the colonists, this was no accident. Surely the misbirth was some sort of omen. Specifically, it had to be a sign of sin, a sign of a revolting, deadly crime: carnal intercourse with the mother pig.
Thus commences one of the best books of 1993, a provocative, riveting tour de force, broad in scope, deep in substance, and written in a witty, urbane style by a mature social historian of the law at the top of his craft. The content encompasses both theory and practice, with the emphasis being on how America’s criminal-justice system has responded over time to such “felt necessities” as politics, economics, and most of all the cultural mores of the American people. Lawrence M. Friedman demonstrates the malleability of the criminal-justice system in adjusting to power shifts in race, class, and gender in American society. Tracing the changing nature not only of crime but also of the justice system, urban police forces, and penitentiaries over three distinct epochs, the author makes profound observations about the shaping of the American character and its effect on society’s treatment of antisocial elements.
Friedman asserts that during America’s Colonial period, hierarchical village theocracies (“tight little islands”) had little need for paid constables and punished...
(The entire section is 1739 words.)
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