Rather than focus on particular criminal laws, the book emphasizes the importance of the parts that different decision-makers play in the administration of criminal justice. Stuntz laments the fact that criminal statutes have limited the discretionary power of judges and juries to reach just decisions in individual cases, while the proliferation and breadth of criminal statutes have given prosecutors and the police so much enforcement discretion that they effectively define the law on the street.
While only 10 percent of the adult black population uses illegal drugs, as does a roughly equal percentage—9 percent—of the adult white population, blacks are nine times more likely than whites to serve prison sentences for drug crimes.
The “bottom line,” Stuntz explains, has been that “poor black neighborhoods see too little of the kinds of policing and criminal punishment that do the most good, and too much of the kinds that do the most harm.” In this sense and others, Stuntz concludes, our criminal justice system has “run off the rails.”
"The number of prisoner-years per murder multiplied nine times. Prisons that had housed fewer than 200,000 inmates in Richard Nixon’s first years in the White House held more than 1.5 million as Barack Obama’s administration began. Local jails contain another 800,000."
One suggestion implicit in much of the book is that a more prompt and vigorous attempt to take affirmative steps to enlist black police officers to protect black neighborhoods with which they are locally connected might well have been wise. I am reminded of the powerful argument set forth in an amicus curiae brief filed eight or nine years ago in Grutter v. Bollinger, the University of Michigan affirmative action case.
What I find most interesting however is not the book itself but its author, William J. Stuntz, who died early this year. The NYT writes about him:
“What was fascinating about him was that everybody read him and listened to him and took seriously what he said,” said Justice Kagan, who worked with Mr. Stuntz when she was dean of Harvard Law School. Scholars came to call his ideas “Stuntzian,” she said. Keep reading . . .The Harvard Law School website reports reports:
In a statement to the Harvard Law School community today, Dean Martha Minow observed: “Bill was extraordinary; his wisdom and compassion touched our lives in so many ways, large and small. His gifts to society through his scholarship and teaching on criminal law and justice changed and improved academic inquiry and policies on the ground. His scholarship and teaching of Christian legal theory and of confronting life's burdens inspire people in our community and well beyond it. He imbued his work and his life with a vision of mercy and compassion. The Harvard Law School, the larger community of scholars, and the communities connected through Bill's writings are better, wiser, kinder because of Bill.”