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Controversies in Criminal Justice: Contemporary Readings.

Controversies in Criminal Justice: Contemporary Readings, by Scott H. Decker, Leanne Fiftal Alarid, and Charles M. Katz, Roxbury Publishing, Los Angeles, California, 2003.

As a discipline, criminal justice is fraught with competing interests, priorities, and opinions, often further confounded by conflicting anecdotal and scientific evidence. The authors of Controversies in Criminal Justice: Contemporary Readings convey that message succinctly in the introduction: "There are two sides to every story." This compilation of criminal justice articles into a single volume presents some of the most contentious and hotly debated issues before policy makers and practitioners thus far.

Scott H. Decker, Leanne Fiftal Alarid, and Charles M. Katz take a unique approach to their text by presenting 11 thought-provoking criminal justice issues with contrasting views: one article favoring the argument and one opposed. This method gives the reader the ability to examine both positions, juxtaposed in an easy-to-read format. Thirty-two articles by some of the most respected authors in criminal justice are logically grouped into four parts: "The Nature of American Crime," "Law Enforcement and Community Policing," "Administering Criminal Law in the Courts," and "Punishment of Offenders." Within each section, the authors present issues that academics and practitioners have debated for some time, including legalizing drugs, the influence of human intelligence and class structure on crime, terrorism, how to reduce crime, the existence of racial profiling, and strategies for punishment.

When considering the legalization of drugs, James Q. Wilson argues how much worse the epidemic would be had national drug-control policy not been vigorously pursued. By contrast, Ethan A. Nadelmann maintains that current policies should be abandoned in favor of alternatives that would reduce the costs and consequences of drugs, including legalization.

One of the most sensitive debates over the last 20 years has been whether human intelligence and class structure contribute to crime. One of the first sources for such a theory came from The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, where Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray suggested that low IQ influences the crime picture. Today, Francis T. Cullen, Paul Gendreau, G. Roger Jarjoura, and John Paul Wright dissect Herrnstein and Murray's research and point to fatally flawed methods that do not advance science nor do they prove that low IQ causes crime, as previously believed. One of the biggest ethical questions surrounding this is, If IQ or class structure does predict who will become a criminal, what do we do about it?

Another interesting assertion concerns how to approach reducing crime through policing strategies. George L. Kelling and William J. Bratton suggest that a policy of strict attention to nuisance offenses (the broken windows theory), centralized data collection and analysis, and officer empowerment can lead to substantial crime reductions. From the opposing viewpoint, Chris Cunneen suggests that zero-tolerance policing and the New York City experience created more problems than the crime reductions were worth: increased tension between police and minority groups, a lack of citizen confidence, and increased citizen complaints of police use of force. This begs the question, If problems are associated with zero-tolerance policing, should they be accepted as necessary collateral damage, or do they erode fundamental civil liberties?

Each part of the text opens with a brief discussion of the issue and introduces the debate, followed by critical-thinking questions and Web sites for further research. The authors emphasize the most salient part of the text, which should guide readers as they formulate their judgment: logic. Arguments that are logical, supported by evidence, and remain consistent produce a cogent and defensible position. The process of logic can lead to better solutions for complex criminal justice issues. However, the authors do not draw answers or conclusions from the articles. Indeed, the conclusions are left to readers to interpret or explore further. This is one of the primary aims of the text: to ensure that readers consider different points of view and ask the questions, "What about ...?" "What if ...?" or "Have you considered ...?" All of the articles first appeared in respected academic journals or government publications, which lends credibility to their content.

This anthology is an excellent addition to any college course on policing, especially as an introduction to criminal justice. Police practitioners and organized police groups, such as those that adopt policy positions, will find it useful, particularly as a reference guide to augment policy positions and to assist with lobbying endeavors.

Reviewed by Captain Jon M. Shane (Ret.)

Newark, New Jersey, Police Department
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Author:Shane, Jon M.
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Oct 1, 2006
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