Matthew Clair - Privilege and Punishment in an Era of Mass Criminalization

Date
Mon, Sep 21 2020, 11:30am - 12:50pm
Abstract

The number of Americans arrested, brought to court, and incarcerated has skyrocketed in recent decades. Criminal defendants come from all races and economic walks of life, but they experience punishment in vastly different ways. Privilege and Punishment examines how racial and class inequalities are embedded in the attorney-client relationship, providing a devastating portrait of inequality and injustice within and beyond the criminal courts.

Matthew Clair conducted extensive fieldwork in the Boston court system, attending criminal hearings and interviewing defendants, lawyers, judges, police officers, and probation officers. In this eye-opening book, he uncovers how privilege and inequality play out in criminal court interactions. When disadvantaged defendants try to learn their legal rights and advocate for themselves, lawyers and judges often silence, coerce, and punish them. Privileged defendants, who are more likely to trust their defense attorneys, delegate authority to their lawyers, defer to judges, and are rewarded for their compliance. Clair shows how attempts to exercise legal rights often backfire on the poor and on working-class people of color, and how effective legal representation alone is no guarantee of justice.

Superbly written and powerfully argued, Privilege and Punishment draws needed attention to the injustices that are perpetuated by the attorney-client relationship in today’s criminal courts, and describes the reforms needed to correct them.

Biography

Dr. Matthew Clair is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and (by courtesy) the Law School. His research interests include law and society, race and ethnicity,  social inequality, cultural sociology, criminal justice, and qualitative methods.

His book Privilege and Punishment: How Race and Class Matter in Criminal Court shows how race and class inequalities in the criminal legal system are embedded in and reproduced through the attorney-client relationship. Drawing on in-depth ethnographic and interview data, his book shows how lawyers and judges often silence, coerce, and punish disadvantaged defendants who attempt to advocate for themselves in court but reward privileged defendants who trust in and defer to their lawyers' legal expertise. These dynamics reveal a paradox of legal control: striving to exercise one's legal rights often backfires for the poor and people of color.

Dr. Clair's research has been published in Criminology, Law & Social Inquiry, Social Science & Medicine, and Social Forces and has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the American Society of Criminology, the Center for American Political Studies, and the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management. He has received awards from the American Sociological Association, the American Society of Criminology, the Law & Society Association, and the Society for the Study of Social Problems. His research has contributed to policy reports on reducing racialized mass incarceration and improving the health of racial/ethnic minorities. In addition, he has written essays for various outlets, including Boston Review, Public Books, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. With a team of research assistants, he is currently leading the Bay Area Law School Project (BALSP), a longitudinal interview study about legal socialization, legal change, and legal careers.

Prior to joining Stanford, Dr. Clair was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s Quattrone Center. He holds an A.B. in Government from Harvard College and an A.M. and Ph.D. in Sociology from Harvard University.