Brooklyn Law School professor offers a ‘radical’ solution to mass incarceration in new book

Jocelyn Simonson’s latest book, “Radical Acts of Justice: How Ordinary People Are Dismantling Mass Incarceration,” provides an insightful exploration of how grassroots collective action can challenge and reshape our current criminal justice system.
(Left) Photo: Robert Abruzzese/Brooklyn Eagle
(Right) Photo courtesy of The New Press

In her latest book, which was released on Aug. 15, “Radical Acts of Justice: How Ordinary People Are Dismantling Mass Incarceration,” Brooklyn Law School Professor Jocelyn Simonson makes a compelling argument for a different approach to dismantling mass incarceration.

Instead of relying on experts and technocrats, she contends that it is ordinary people joining together in extraordinary collective actions that can bring about real change. The book has already garnered praise for its innovative perspective on criminal justice reform.

Simonson’s book is not just a theoretical exploration but dives deep into real-life examples of community-driven interventions that are already making an impact. She highlights how people are paying bail for strangers, using social media to publicize everyday courtroom proceedings, making videos about individuals’ lives for criminal court judges, and presenting budget proposals to city councils.

These acts of resistance, according to Simonson, challenge the notion that prisons make us safer and that justice requires putting people in cages. Instead, they embody a more radical idea of justice.

In “Radical Acts of Justice,” Simonson also examines how grassroots collective actions, such as bail funds, copwatching, courtwatching and participatory defense, are shifting power away from elite actors in the courtroom and toward the collective community.

These actions contest the prevailing ideas of justice and safety and challenge the belief that public officials charged with maintaining “law and order” are truly representing the will of the people.

Simonson’s book is already receiving high praise from critics and scholars alike. Amna Akbar, professor of law at Ohio State University, described the book as “indispensable for anyone trying to understand racial justice politics and criminal law reform today.”

Vivian Nixon, writer in residence at Columbia University’s Square One, praised Simonson’s work as a “courageous and pragmatic reclamation of community power.”

Jocelyn Simonson, the author of “Radical Acts of Justice,” is known for her writing and teaching on criminal law, criminal procedure, evidence and social change. She is particularly interested in examining how the public participates in the criminal process and the local governance institutions that control policing and punishment.

Simonson’s scholarship is informed by her five years of experience as a public defender with the Bronx Defenders, as well as her time as an acting assistant professor of lawyering at New York University School of Law. Before joining Brooklyn Law School’s faculty in 2015, she clerked for the Hon. Barrington Parker, Jr., in the U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.

Simonson’s scholarship, which has been published in esteemed law journals such as the Harvard Law Review, Yale Law Journal, and Columbia Law Review, has been cited twice by the Supreme Court and designated “Must Read” by the NACDL Getting Scholarship Into Courts Project.

In her latest book, Simonson offers a radical shift in our approach to dismantling mass incarceration. By highlighting grassroots collective actions, she presents a new perspective on what justice can look like and how ordinary people can reshape our criminal justice system.


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