27 January 2018

Criminal Justice/Prison-Related Books

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Again, this list is far from exhaustive but it provides a good start for anyone interested in reading about prison, how people get there, what they do while they’re there and what happens to them when – and if – they leave custody. This list will be updated regularly as new books capture our attention.

Click on the genre to jump to that section.

Current Nonfiction

Prison Memoirs

Prison Poetry


Psychology and Criminal Justice

Lawyers and Courts

Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Criminal Justice

Criminal Justice in Fiction

Ethics in Criminal Justice

Crime Victims in Criminal Justice

Mental Health Issues in Criminal Justice

Juvenile Justice

Sex Crimes

Criminal Justice and Women

Criminal Justice Basics

Current Nonfiction

Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform by John Pfaff. Take-down of the race-based, War-on-Drugs explanation of mass incarceration. Somewhat antagonistic to national narrative on crime and prisons, but underpinned by extensive statistical research and analysis.

Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman. Written by former public defender now teaching at Yale Law School. Contains compelling historical facts and statistical analysis. Bound by an intensely personal narrative of watching black people become part of the machinery that caused mass incarceration and feeling powerless to stop it.

Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice by Adam Benforado. A look at the various scientific methods used in criminal justice as well as scientific evaluation of our own biases and practices.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. New York Times bestseller by former capital defense attorney that popularized the idea that no one is as bad as his or her worst mistake. Probably the most effective humanization of correctional populations, even including memoir.

The New Jim Crow – Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. The title has become shorthand for our nation’s carceral crisis. Academically sound.

The Rich Get Richer the Poor Get Prison, by Jeffrey Reiman. A discussion of conflict theory as applied to criminal justice but also the forces of poverty and capitalism in criminal justice.

Prison Memoirs

A Woman Doing Life: Notes from a Prison for Women by Erin George. A woman sentenced to over 600 years in Virginia writes about life in a women’s prison.

Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women by Susan Burton. Burton was featured in The New York Times by columnist Nick Kristoff in 2017. Burton works in advocacy in California. Believable tale of the usual ways women of color become incarcerated.

Turning the Tables: From Housewife to Inmate and Back Again by Teresa Giudice of Bravo TV series The Real Housewives of New Jersey. Recent memoir of prison sentence in Connecticut, except in federal facility and only for one year.

Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death and Redemption in an American Prison by Shaka Sengor.  Senghor served time for the crime of murder and now works with the organization #cut50, founded by Van Jones to reduce the prison population by half by 2025.

Law Man by Shon Hopwood. Hopwood was recently featured on 60 Minutes as he was the first inmate to secure certiorari before the United States Supreme Court; he is an assistant professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

Mr. Smith Goes to Prison: What My Year Behind Bars Taught Me About America’s Prison Crisis, by Jeff Smith. A state senator from Missouri went to prison. Somewhat tone-deaf treatment of the issues related to criminal justice. Smith is now a faculty member at the New School

Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman.  New York Times bestseller – several million copies sold internationally.

The Man Who Outgrew His Prison Cell: Confessions of a Bank Robber by Joe Loya.

I’ll Fly Away by Wally Lamb and various authors. Collection of personal essays by female inmates at York Correctional Institution. Collection of personal essays by female inmates at York Correctional Institution describing trauma histories.

Couldn’t Keep It to Myself: Wally Lamb and the Women of York Correctional Institution by various authors. Collection of personal essays by female inmates at York Correctional Institution describing trauma histories.  This volume of essays, the second, was the subject of litigation when the state of Connecticut sued the inmate writers for their royalties. A story about the prison writing program appeared on the CBS news show 60 Minutes.

Prison Poetry

Up the River: An Anthology by Chandra Bozelko.  Chapbook of poetry written by author while she was incarcerated; originally banned. More successful academically than commercially. Taught in college courses at American University, Florida State University John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Won Best Book Award at American University in 2015.

Origami Heart: Poems by a Woman Doing Life by Erin George.

Let There Be Light by Hakim Nathaniel Crampton.


Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing by Ted Conniver. Memoir by journalist who became a correction officer.

Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement, by Kevin Gilmartin. On the overall emotional impact of being in law enforcement.

The Will to Survive, by Bobby Smith. The problem of arrogance in law enforcement is significant.  Tells the story of one officer whose mistake on the job caused him to re-think his approach to being a police officer in a profound way.

Police State: How Cops Get Away with Murder by Gerry Spence. In his more than sixty years in the courtroom, Spence has never represented a person charged with a crime in which the police hadn’t themselves violated the law.

Basic Handbook of Police Supervision: A Practical Guide for Law Enforcement Supervisors by Gerald Gamer. Good insight into being a police officer and the standards they are supposed to be held to.

The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things, by Barry Glasner. This book provides a thoughtful discussion of how the media can influence what Americans believe are the real criminal justice problems in society and how those perceptions are not always correct.

There are No Children Here, by Alex Kotlowitz. A true story of brothers who grew up in the projects with violence all around them. Kotlowitz routinely works with people in prison to get their writing published.

From Social Justice to Criminal Justice: Poverty and the Administration of Criminal Law, by William C. Heffernan. Explains how criminal justice is often administered unevenly toward poverty-ridden communities and why this is the case.

Psychology and Criminal Justice

Criminal Behavior: A Psychological Approach by Curt Bartol. Offers a detailed look at crime, what may lead to it, and how criminal behavior may be prevented — all from a psychological perspective.

Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts, by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. Look for yourself in this book. You’re in there.

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, by Philip Zimbardo. For those seeking to understand heinous criminal behavior.

Inside the Criminal Mind, by Dr. Stanton Samenow.  Used by many criminology professors; discusses cognitive behavior modification.

Lawyers and Courts

An Assistant Public Defender’s Stories by Bernard Swartz.

Born Again, by Chuck Colson. Another book about arrogance and overcoming it, this book was written by someone who was convicted of crimes involving Watergate back in the 1970’s. Colson discusses the radical change in his life from friend and adviser to the President of the United States to being a prisoner.

The Defense Never Rests, by F. Lee Bailey. From famed OJ Simpson “Dream Team” attorney on how lawyers should deal only with facts while engaging in a relentless pursuit of justice and how Bailey’s military background helped him do just that.

The Nine, by Jeffrey Tobin. SCOTUS.

Crook County: Racism and Injustice in America’s Largest Criminal Court by Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve.


Criminal Justice in Fiction

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Though fiction, this book offers plenty for criminal justice professionals to learn from today. The plot includes  criminal trial in the 1930’s that involves racism in the South.

The Trial by Franz Kafka. A philosophical book that discusses justice and fairness.

Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose. Originally a play, it was turned into a book and discusses criminal cases and the whole jury process involved in trying those cases.

Ethics in Criminal Justice

Ethical Dilemmas in Criminal Justice by Joycelyn Pollock.

Against the Death Penalty by Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

Peculiar Institution: America’s Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition by David Garland.

A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest Gaines. A look at a man on death row and his personal struggles with the ethics of the death penalty and the racism involved in it, as well as his personal path to forgiveness.

Crime Victims in Criminal Justice

Crime Victim Rights and Remedies by Peggy M. Tobolowsky.

The Praeger Handbook of Victimology by Janet K. Wilson.

Victims of Crime and Punishment : Interviews with Victims, Convicts, Their Families, and Support Groups, by Shirley Dicks. This book interviews offenders, their victims, and the families of both to show how each side sees the story and the criminal justice system as it works for them.

Mental Health Issues in Criminal Justice

Prison Madness: The Mental Health Crisis Behind Bars and What We Must Do About It by Terry Kupers.

Crazy in America: The Hidden Tragedy of Our Criminalized Mentally Ill by Mary Beth Pfeiffer.

Handbook of Forensic Mental Health Services by Ronald Roesch.

Juvenile Justice

The War on Kids: How American Juvenile Justice Lost Its Way by Cara H. Drinan.

Sex Crimes

Sex Crimes: Then and Now: My Years on the Front Lines Prosecuting Rapists and Confronting Their Collaborators by Alice Vachss.

Male On Male Rape: The Hidden Toll Of Stigma And Shame, by Michael Scarce. This book discusses a seldom talked about subject and brings it out into the open so it can be looked at without shame or stigma attached to it.

Sex Offenders: Crime and Processing in the Criminal Justice System by Sean Maddan.

Criminal Justice and Women

Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the U.S. Prison System by Silja Talvi.

Women and the Criminal Justice System by Katherine van Wormer.

The Criminal Justice System And Women: Offenders, Victims, and Workers by Barbara Raffel Price.

Women Who Offend (Research Highlights in Social Work, 44), by Gill McIvor. A old discussion of why women become offenders and how they are often treated by the criminal justice system in America.

Criminal Justice Basics

Criminal Justice: A Brief Introduction by Frank Schmalleger. An older book, but a worthwhile overview.

Crime Classification Manual: A Standard System for Investigating and Classifying Violent Crimes, by John E. Douglas. How we classify crime has almost everything to do with how we react to it.

An Introduction to Criminal Justice Information Systems by Ralph Ioimo. See why we are missing so much needed data.





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