• 246 pages
  • 6 x 9
  • 3 figures, 7 halftones, 1 map
  • Price: $34.95
  • EAN: 9781439922316
  • Publication: Jan 2022
  • Price: $110.50
  • EAN: 9781439922309
  • Publication: Jan 2022
  • Price: $34.95
  • EAN: 9781439922323
  • Publication: Jan 2022

Gangs on Trial

Challenging Stereotypes and Demonization in the Courts

John M. Hagedorn

With a Foreword by Craig Haney

    "Hagedorn has written an extremely courageous book, one in which he is willing to assert hard moral truths that cut against the grain of what passes for common knowledge about who commits crime and why."
    from the Foreword by Craig Haney

Prominent gang researcher John Hagedorn reveals that what transpires in the trials of gang members is a far cry from what we would consider justice. In Gangs on Trial, he uses stories from the 73 gang related court cases he consulted on to vividly describe how stereotypes are a prosecutor’s best friend. He shows how gang members are dehumanized in order to secure the most punitive sentences.

The Black Lives Matter movement exposed racism in policing. Gangs on Trial exposes racism in the courts. Hagedorn gives examples of how to combat stereotypes in trials and sentencing hearings, though he acknowledges this is an uphill struggle.

Hagedorn’s lively stories from the courtroom apply concepts from social psychology to understand injustice. He describes how jurors’ minds are subconsciously “primed” to transform a gang member on trial into a “prototype” of a violent monster. Rather than consider the social context of a crime or the real biography of the defendant, the prosecutor convinces the court that violence is part of the defendant’s nature and circumstances are less important or even irrelevant.

Hagedorn argues that dehumanization is the psychological foundation of mass incarceration. Gangs on Trial advocates for practical sentencing reforms, humanizing justice, and supports the movement for progressive prosecutors.


Gangs on Trial is a great read—part memoir, part case study, and a full plea for the reform of our criminal legal system. Hagedorn takes readers on a journey of social psychology to disabuse the stereotypical threat and the often-misapplied label of ‘gang related.’ His book is essential reading for those involved in or concerned about criminal ‘justice.’ He provides thoughtfully told stories of heartbreak, redemption, and perseverance with attention paid to the racism and racial dynamics that are ever-present in the legal system. Finally, and most importantly, Hagedorn reminds us that compassion is integral to humanity and that we are all more than the worst thing we have ever done."
—Randolph Stone, retired Clinical Professor of Law at the University of Chicago and former public defender

Gangs on Trial provides a nuanced account of how prosecutors use racial stereotypes to accomplish the goal of pipelining gang-associated individuals into prison. Hagedorn asks more from the criminal justice system by providing brilliant strategies on how to contest these stereotypes and how to humanize those who find themselves encountering injustice."
—Victor M. Rios, Associate Dean of Social Sciences and Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys

"Hagedorn takes gang research in bold, new directions in his latest book.... Gangs on Trial is peppered with Hagedorn’s typical witticisms and subversive insights.... (R)eaders, in particular, will benefit from Hagedorn’s keen insights into the injustices that mar criminal gang prosecutions and his practical strategies for challenging these dynamics.... (A) valuable resource for those working on challenging injustices in court and anyone interested in reprograming their inevitably stereotyped thinking. And if we are ever to build a truly just society, Gangs on Trial will be an essential guide in that journey as well."<br/>Criminal Justice Review

"Hagedorn uses stories from seventy-three US gang-related cases on which he consulted to argue that dehumanizing stereotypes are a prosecutor’s best friend. He argues that, rather than consider the social context of a crime or the real biography of the defendant, the prosecutor convinces the court that violence is part of the defendant’s nature and that the circumstances are less important or even irrelevant. He concludes that this process of dehumanization is the psychological foundation of mass incarceration."
Law and Social Inquiry

"Using 18 case studies, Hagedorn illustrates how he sought to refute prosecutorial claims of gang violence. His goal is to offer a mixture of academic research and emotional appeal to shift the focus away from the gang and onto a human being facing adverse circumstances. The resulting mixture is accessible to wider audiences.... The circumstances of each case study maintain readers' interest. The writing is clear and succinct... (H)is point of view is important and often lacking in the literature... Summing Up: Recommended."<br/>Choice

About the Author(s)

John M. Hagedorn (1947-2023) was Professor Emeritus of Criminology, Law, and Justice and James J. Stukel Faculty Fellow, Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois, Chicago. He was the author or editor of seven books, including The In$ane Chicago Way: The Daring Plan by Chicago Gangs to Create a Spanish Mafia, A World of Gangs: Armed Young Men and Gangsta Culture, and People and Folks: Gangs, Crime, and the Underclass in a Rustbelt City. Of his 73 gang-related court cases, 60 are for homicide, and 17 of which, the accused faced the death penalty.

In the Series

Studies in Transgression

Studies in Transgression, edited by David C. Brotherton, publishes books at the intersection of sociology and critical criminology. This series challenges the normative conventions of the broader study of crime to produce a fuller accounting of a society’s responsibilities for and complicity in the threats and wrongdoing that come to be seen as police-able crimes. The series examines behaviors understood as transgressive by looking at the cultural assumptions that contextualize that reading and the structural factors that underlie those behaviors. Books in the series will examine marginal lifestyles and their relationship to crime around the Unites States and the globe. Perspective authors should contact the series edtior David C. Brotherton or Temple University Press Editor Ryan Mulligan to discuss their work in progress for inclusion in the series.