About the Event:The number of Americans arrested, brought to court, and incarcerated has skyrocketed in recent decades. Criminal defendants come from all races and economic walks of life, but they experience punishment in vastly different ways. How and why is the court process unequal? This talk draws on findings from my book Privilege and Punishment: How Race and Class Matter in Criminal Court (Princeton University Press, November 2020). Drawing on fieldwork and interviews in the Boston court system, I show that lawyers and judges often silence, coerce, and punish disadvantaged defendants when they try to learn their legal rights and advocate for themselves. These dynamics reveal how unwritten institutional norms devalue the exercise of legal rights among the disadvantaged, and that ensuring effective legal representation is no guarantee of justice. Drawing on other research and activism on the courts as a tool of racialized social control, I conclude with reflections on the democratic potential and possibilities of criminal court abolition.
About the Speaker:Dr. Matthew Clair is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and (by courtesy) the Law School. His research examines the law, culture, and inequality. Dr. Clair's research has been published in Criminology, Law & Social Inquiry, Social Science & Medicine, and Social Forces and has been supported by the National Science Foundation and the American Society of Criminology. He has received awards from the American Sociological Association, the American Society of Criminology, the Law & Society Association, and the Society for the Study of Social Problems. His first book Privilege and Punishment: How Race and Class Matter in Criminal Court was published by Princeton University Press in November 2020.