David Anderson

David C. Anderson is author of Sensible Justice: Alternatives to Prison and Crime
and the Politics of Hysteria: How the Willie Horton Story Changed
American Justice

Recent Articles

Smoking Guns

Even after Littleton, gun control advocates have been stymied in Congress, where the lobbying presence of the NRA is just too strong. But litigation against gun manufacturers, borrowed from the playbook of the anti-tobacco crusaders, may prove the real route to gun control.

The street guy told the dealer he needed some guns to replace one he had lost the previous Saturday. The dealer was sympathetic. Were you caught with the gun? he wanted to know. No, the man said. He had run and hadn't been caught, but along the way he ditched the gun and the cops got it. Now he wanted new guns because he had figured out who had "ratted me out" to the police, he said, and he had to "settle up." They agreed on replacement guns and the dealer said to come back in a few days to pick them up. This was a disturbing episode of retailing, certainly—and all the more disturbing because it did not take place on an inner-city street corner or a booth in a bikers' bar, but over the counter of a store in a Chicago suburb. The customer was an undercover officer, part of a sting operation mounted by Chicago police to support the city's lawsuit against firearms manufacturers and distributors. The Chicago suit, part of a fast-growing legal trend, suggests the potential for...

Policing the Police

Where is the line between effective crime control and violation of civil liberties? 

A few years ago in the city of Los Angeles, attorneys Donald W. Cook and Robert Mann brought a series of lawsuits on behalf of people bitten by police dogs. The lawyers argued that the victims, mostly suspects fleeing or hiding from police, were bitten while unarmed and already surrounded, sometimes even handcuffed; the dog attacks constituted a gratuitous use of force. These were not easy cases to win. Juries tend to sympathize with police and their dogs more than with criminals fleeing arrest for burglary or auto theft. But Cook and Mann persisted, offering chilling videotape of an actual dog attack and pointing out the disproportionate number of serious injuries that resulted from arrests accomplished with the help of dogs. The city eventually paid $3.5 million to settle these lawsuits. More important, Los Angeles Police Chief Willie Williams ordered a change in police policy. Instead of following a "find and bite" procedure, dogs and their handlers were retrained for "find and...

Special Report: The Crime Debate:

W hat's behind the declines in violent crime? The question prompts lively discussion among people coming at a huge social issue from different angles: Some point to random demographic changes, others cite lock-'em-up prison policies; still others, most recently, point to more astute policing. This debate is not exactly a replay of the old argument over root causes versus tough law enforcement. The deep social pathologies that breed crime are still there, and that argument unfortunately remains on hold. Instead, the recent drop in crime rates poses a central strategic issue of criminal justice: Should it be reactive, emphasizing the capture, adjudication, and punishment of criminals after they commit crimes? Or proactive, working to prevent crimes from ever occurring? In principle, this should not be an either/or matter, but limited resources force choices. Call it the "back-end/front-end" debate. Back-enders, focusing on events at the conclusion of the criminal justice process, favor...

When Should Kids Go to Jail?

For nearly a century, childhood has been a mitigating condition in the eyes of the criminal law. Now that legislators want to try more children as adults, we need to be careful about throwing the baby out with the jail key.

W hile America's latest crime wave appears to be subsiding, the legitimate fears it aroused in urban America leave a powerful political legacy. Along with new police strategies and more prisons, legislators continue to call for harsher treatment of juvenile offenders long granted special status because of a historic belief in the diminished culpability of children and adolescents. Nearly all states now permit the "waiver" of youngsters charged with serious crimes to adult courts; in more than half, legislatures have specifically excluded those charged with certain crimes from juvenile court jurisdiction. In some cases the exclusions apply to children as young as 13. Legislation moving forward in the current Congress would expand adult federal court jurisdiction over offenders as young as 14 and give prosecutors, rather than judges, the power to transfer a juvenile case to adult court. Therein lies an important debate. The nation approaches the one hundredth anniversary of the first...