Jerome Skolnick

Jerome H. Skolnick, a professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, is co-director of the Center for Research in Crime and Justice at New York University's School of Law.

Recent Articles

Gentle Europe, Tough America

Harsh Justice: Criminal Punishment and the Widening Divide Between America and Europe By James Q. Whitman, Oxford University Press, 311 pages, $35.00 This past March, a sharply divided Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of California's "three strikes" law requiring long prison terms for third felonies. In the specific appeals before it, the Court let stay a sentence of 25 years without parole for Gary E. Ewing, who stole three golf clubs from a pro shop, and 50 years for Leandro Andrade, who took videotapes from a Kmart store. The Court's majority ruled that imprisoning shoplifters for so much (if not all) of their remaining lives did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Like the continued reliance on capital punishment in the United States, the three-strikes decision underlines the American pattern of "harsh justice" that James Q. Whitman sets in contrast with milder European practices in this bold, erudite and sure-to-be-controversial book. Whitman, a professor at...

State of the Debate: The Color of the Law

Race and crime commingle dangerously in the American psyche. Now that crime rates are declining, might color-blind justice finally be achievable?

WORKS DISCUSSED IN THIS ESSAY Randall Kennedy, Race, Crime, and the Law (Pantheon, 1997). Craig Reinarman and Harry G. Levine, eds., Crack in America: Demon Drugs and Social Justice (University of California Press, 1997). Michael Tonry, Malign Neglect: Race, Crime and Punishment in America (Oxford, 1995). Franklin E. Zimring and Gordon Hawkins, Crime is Not the Problem: Lethal Violence in America (Oxford, 1997). I s America now finally ready for the message of Randall Kennedy's new book—that in enforcing the criminal laws, the courts and the police should never be allowed to make judgments based on race? Eliminating racial bias from law enforcement was one of the great objectives of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. But it was one of the movement's historical misfortunes that it preceded a major national upswing in rates of violent crime. In a culture where race and crime have deep historical connections, rising crime rates raised social anxieties about race. As public opinion...

Code Blue

P olice work in an unpredictable, sometimes violent, sometimes deadly environment. The potential danger of their workplace and their authority to use force to overcome resistance make it unsurprising that police actions can have brutal, even fatal, consequences--sometimes for innocent people, as Amadou Diallo's family knows all too well. It's also not surprising that, to cope with such violence and danger, police have developed a very close-knit culture that has its own set of norms. A policeman understands that his fellow officers might, in the heat of the moment, do things that they wouldn't want brought to light later on. Maybe they administered a "tune-up" to teach compliance to a suspect. Or maybe they visited a "beat wife," or prostitute, while on duty. A cop learns to back up the stories colleagues tell to superiors and investigators; in turn, he is confident colleagues will back him up. This makes it very hard to investigate and prosecute cases of police misconduct. It may...

Wild Pitch: 'Three Strikes, You're Out' and Other Bad Calls on Crime

Gut-level intuition is driving the country toward depserate and ineffective measures.

A ccording to the pundits, the polls, and the politicians, violent crime is now America's number one problem. If the problem were properly defined and the lessons of past efforts were fully absorbed, this could be an opportunity to set national crime policy on a positive course. Instead, it is a dangerous moment. Intuition is driving the country toward desperate and ineffectual responses that will drive up prison costs, divert tax dollars from other vital purposes, and leave the public as insecure and dissatisfied as ever. The pressures pushing federal and state politicians to vie for the distinction of being toughest on crime do not come only from apprehensive voters and the tabloid press. Some of the leading organs of elite opinion, notably the Wall Street Journal , have celebrated gut-level, impulsive reactions. In one Journal column ("Crime Solution: Lock 'em Up"), Ben J. Wattenberg writes that criminologists don't know what works. What works is what everyone intuitively knows: "A...

State of the Debate: Tough Guys

William Bennett, John DiIulio, and John Walters say it's time liberals faced the hard facts about crime. Maybe they should heed their own advice.

Works Discussed in This Essay William J. Bennett, John J. DiIulio, Jr., and John P. Walters, Body Count: Moral Poverty and How to Win America's War Against Crime and Drugs. Simon and Schuster, 1996. John Hagan and Ruth D. Peterson, ed. Crime and Inequality. Stanford University Press, 1995. G iven the fame of its authors, its provocative title, and its contentious rhetoric, Body Count seems destined to be a best-seller, popular with the Republican right. The former drug czar and secretary of education William J. Bennett here joins with John J. DiIulio, Jr., a Princeton University political scientist, and John P. Walters, a former deputy to Bennett in the drug war, to warn Americans of an impending wave of violent crime and to urge an expanded war on drugs, tougher policing, longer sentences, more imprisonment, and—not to be forgotten—more religion. "America's beleaguered cities," the authors declare, "are about to be victimized by a paradigm shattering wave of ultraviolent, morally...