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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

MIT Professor Gary Marx reviews "Snitching"

Gary T. Marx is professor emeritus of sociology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is author of the seminal book Undercover: Police Surveillance in America (1989) and he has written extensively on the new forms of surveillance, social control across borders, and comparative law. His book review of "Snitching," forthcoming in Theoretical Criminology, is here. Here's the beginning of the review:
It is rare to encounter a book that nurtures the passion for justice while also remaining respectful of standards of scholarship. Law professor Alexandra Natapoff has done that in a splendidly informative and lively book. The topic of criminal informants (which need not be the same as informants reporting on criminals) has never been has so comprehensively, disturbingly and clearly analyzed -- not only should criminal justice practitioners and students be required to read it, they should be tested on it.
Among the most significant and least studied aspects of American criminal justice is how the government obtains evidence. Apart from what can be learned from direct observation, searches, forensics or accidents, authorities in a democracy are forever sentenced to making deals, rewards, threats, manipulation, covert surveillance, undercover operations and tips. Negotiation, compromise and voluntary compliance play a much larger role than in more authoritarian societies lacking our expansive notion of procedural rights. Coercion, deception and actions off the books are just beneath the veneer and support the table of our high civic ideals -- ironically partly because of them.