Challenging Stereotypes and Demonization in the CourtsJohn 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