Usual Cruelty: The Complicity of Lawyers in the Criminal Injustice System
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About the Author
A former public defender, Alec Karakatsanis is the founder of the Civil Rights Corps, an organization designed to advocate for racial justice and bring systemic civil rights cases on behalf of impoverished people. He was named the 2016 Trial Lawyer of the Year by Public Justice and was awarded the Stephen B. Bright Award for contributions to indigent defense in the South by Gideon's Promise. He lives in Washington, DC.
Praise for Usual Cruelty
"Passionately argued. . . . Karakatsanis sets out the moral and political philosophy that drives his work--that criminal law, and the manner in which it is selectively enforced, is a reflection of 'power, racial bias, and economic self-interest.' His vision is radical: a post-carceral society, in which imprisonment is 'a narrowly tailored remedy of last resort.'"
--The New Yorker
"Usual Cruelty lays out a compelling and damning argument that lawyers play a central role in rendering the criminal legal system unjust. . . . [Its] exposition of 'the chasm between the law as it is written and the law as it is lived' should be familiar to all lawyers, as should the pursuit of eliminating that chasm."
"Usual Cruelty deserves to join the shortlist of books that have meaningfully changed our conversation about criminal punishment over the past ten years. . . . It paints the most accurate picture I have ever seen of the criminal punishment system and the way lawyers operate in and around it."
"Alec Karakatsanis puts "human caging" and "wealth-based detention" in America on trial."
"Usual Cruelty provides a new framework for evaluating whether politicians are pushing tweaks or true transformation."
"Usual Cruelty: The Complicity of Lawyers in the Criminal Injustice System, a provocative new book by Alec Karakatsanis, shines a searing light on the anachronism that is the American criminal justice system. He exposes the fractures, pitfalls and minefields of a system where every actor is potentially complicit in the 'injustice' outcome."
--U.S. Circuit Judge Bernice Donald, Law360
"A fiery indictment of America's criminal justice system [and a] provocative cri de coeur."
"Alec Karakatsanis is a leading voice in the legal struggle to dismantle mass incarceration, this century's defining civil rights issue. What he says cannot be ignored."
--James Forman, Jr., Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Locking Up Our Own
"A devastating indictment of the legal profession by one of our most important young lawyers, Usual Cruelty cuts to the core of what is critical to understand about our legal system, and about ourselves. Every law student and lawyer should read this book."
--Anthony D. Romero, executive director, ACLU
"There is no better way to understand vital and often successful challenges to the system, and to the dehumanization of individuals that permits it, than to read this searing, searching, and eloquent book by Alec Karakatsanis."
--Martha Minow, former dean, Harvard Law School, and author of When Should Law Forgive?
"Alec Karakatsanis asks a difficult question: What do we do when defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges, legislators, and our fellow citizens make the most profound of injustices possible? The question is a worthy one. If to be sworn to uphold the law is not enough, to read this book, too, is simply not enough. May action follow."
--Reginald Dwayne Betts, poet, lawyer, and author of the poetry collection Felon
"Usual Cruelty offers a provocative indictment of the legal profession's role in perpetuating a justice system rife with structural racism and indignity. With compassion and acuity, Karakatsanis lays bare the devastating harms of mass incarceration and the bureaucracy that sustains it. He exhorts the reader to think carefully about the gap between our constitutional ideals and the lived realities of communities--and what that says about our society and ourselves."
--Vanita Gupta, president and CEO, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights