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Social Adversity, Crime & Justice

This section explores Bazelon's argument about how discrimination and social adversity could form grounds for mitigating criminal penalties for oppressed minorities. This section also has resources for Lawson's Crime, Minorities and the Social Contract. 

The debate over inequality and the criminal law was most intense during the unrest of the 1970s, and attention to the topic has greatly diminished, so few internet resources exist on the topic of the social adversity defense. Michael Tonry's book Malign Neglect: Race, Crime and Punishment contains a full chapter on social adversity and the criminal law. He specifically mentions the exchanges between Judge Bazelon and Stephen Morse in the University of Southern California Law Review during the mid 1970s as the fullest discussion of these ideas. 

from the Introduction: Contractarian Ethics

BLACK RAGE CONFRONTS THE LAW  The black rage defense is a legal strategy used in criminal cases. It is not a simplistic environmental defense. The overwhelming majority of African Americans who never commit crimes and who lead productive lives against overwhelming odds prove that poverty and racial oppression do not necessarily cause an individual to resort to theft, drugs, and violence. But it cannot be denied that there is a causal connection between environment and crime. A black rage defense explores that connection in the context of an individual defendant on trial.

Let me be a free man, free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to talk, think and act for myself - and I will obey every law or submit to the penalty

-Chief Joseph (Nez Perce)

quoted in Russell Means, Where White Men Fear to Tread

Locke and the Social Contract

John Locke (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy) This site by the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives biography of John Locke, and summarization of his work “Two Treatises of Government give more insight into the social contract and its implications for government. Also discussed is the context in which the work was written.

Copy of The Second Treatise of Government by Locke Digitized by Dave Gowan.

John Locke (1632-1704), The Philosopher of Freedom. This site gives links to many issues of interest concerning Locke, including views on human nature, idealists, materialists and dualists, tabula rosa, empiricism, Locke’s views on government, Pre-Social man, Raison d’etre of government, the extent of government power, the ends of government, the taxing power of government, and revolution


Minority Crime Victimization

Bureau of Justice Statistics Victim Characteristics: Statistics regarding the characteristics of victims of crime. These statistics show that minorities have been disproportionately victims of crime. 

Bureau of Justice Statistics Homicide trends in the U.S.: Trends by race.

More Thoughts on Inequality and Justice

Should the Tax System Redistribute the Wealth? Despite a Widening Gap Between Rich and Poor, U.S. Is Ambivalent (washington Post) Americans have always been uncomfortable with the question and ambivalent about most of the answers. Although the Declaration of Independence gave eloquent voice to national aspirations toward equality, it took an amendment to give the federal government the power to impose an income tax. And while most Americans believe that the rich don't pay their fair share of the income tax burden, when asked to sketch out what they thought would be a fairer system, they came up with one that almost exactly mirrors the existing U.S. tax code. 

The Rich (Still) Get Richer…: Understanding Ideology, Outrage and Economic Bias Short talk given by Jeffrey Reiman at an American Society of Criminology panel marking 25 years of his book The Rich Get Richer & the Poor Get Prison being in print. 



Does the Law Morally Bind the Poor? : Or What Good's the Constitution When You Can't Afford a Loaf of Bread? (Critical America Series)

From Social Justice to Criminal Justice : Poverty and the Administration of Criminal Law (Heffernan & Kleinig)

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