Radical Acts of Justice

How Ordinary People Are Dismantling Mass Incarceration

An original argument that the answer to mass incarceration lies not with experts and pundits, but with ordinary people taking extraordinary actions together—written by a leading authority on bail reform and social movements

“To pay money bail via an organized community bail fund is not just a form of protest, nor a simple act of charity, but rather something more powerful: a collective assertion of power over the decision to hold someone in a cage because of their poverty.” —from the introduction

From reading books on mass incarceration, one might conclude that the way out of our overly punitive, racially disparate criminal system is to put things in the hands of experts, technocrats able to think their way out of the problem. But, as Jocelyn Simonson points out in her groundbreaking new book, the problems posed by the American carceral state are not just technical puzzles; they present profound moral questions for our time.

Radical Acts of Justice tells the stories of ordinary people joining together in collective acts of resistance: paying bail for a stranger, using social media to let the public know what everyday courtroom proceedings are like, making a video about someone’s life for a criminal court judge, presenting a budget proposal to the city council. When people join together to contest received ideas of justice and safety, they challenge the ideas that prosecutions and prisons make us safer; that public officials charged with maintaining “law and order” are carrying out the will of the people; and that justice requires putting people in cages. Through collective action, these groups live out new and more radical ideas of what justice can look like.

In a book that will be essential reading for those who believe our current systems of policing, criminal law, and prisons are untenable, Jocelyn Simonson shows how to shift power away from the elite actors at the front of the courtroom and toward the swelling collective in the back.

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