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Center for Criminal Justice Hosts Issa Kohler-Hausmann for Discussion of Her Book Misdemeanorland


At a book talk sponsored by the Center for Criminal Justice, Issa Kohler-Hausmann, Associate Professor of Law at Yale Law School and Associate Professor of Sociology at Yale, discussed her recent book, Misdemeanorland: Criminal Courts and Social Control in an Age of Broken Windows Policing (Princeton University Press, 2018). Through an in-depth look at the consequences of New York City’s dramatically expanded policing of low-level offenses, Kohler-Hausmann shows how the lower reaches of the criminal justice system operate as a form of social control and surveillance, often without adjudicating cases or imposing formal punishment.

The discussion was moderated by Kate Mogulescu, Professor of Clinical Law and co-director of the center. “It was fitting for the Center for Criminal Justice to kick off the academic year by hosting Professor Kohler-Hausmann, whose work fits squarely within the Center’s mission of integrating criminal practice and theory,” said Mogulescu, who also serves as director of the Criminal Defense & Advocacy Clinic. “Misdemeanorland’s critical look at the processing of misdemeanor cases in New York’s criminal courts reckons with the criminal legal system as it actually operates and what it means for those directly impacted.”

Drawing on three years of fieldwork inside and outside of the courtroom, in-depth interviews, and analysis of trends in arrests and dispositions of misdemeanors going back three decades, Kohler-Hausmann argues that lower courts have largely abandoned the adjudicative model of criminal law administration in which questions of factual guilt and legal punishment drive case outcomes. Due to the sheer volume of arrests, lower courts have adopted a managerial model in which people are marked, tested, and subjected to surveillance and control even though about half the cases result in some form of legal dismissal. She describes in harrowing detail how the reach of America’s penal system extends well beyond the shocking numbers of people incarcerated in prisons or stigmatized by a felony conviction.

“The book has particular relevance for our Criminal Defense & Advocacy Clinic, where students navigate Misdemeanorland in their own casework,” said Mogulescu. “We use Professor Kohler-Hausmann’s theoretical framework to make sense of what we observe and experience.”

Read more about the Center for Criminal Justice here.

Read more about Professor Kohler-Hausmann’s work here.