In Their Names

The Untold Story of Victims’ Rights, Mass Incarceration, and the Future of Public Safety

In Their Names busts open the public safety myth that uses victims’ rights to perpetuate mass incarceration, and offers a formula for what would actually make us safe, from the widely respected head of Alliance for Safety and Justice

“The fact that decades of increased investments in criminal justice have been justified in service of protecting victims of crime, when most crime victims haven’t seen the justice system offer any real protection or help, is perhaps the most sinister aspect and irony of mass incarceration.” —from the introduction by Lenore Anderson

When twenty-six-year-old recent college graduate Aswad Thomas was days away from starting a professional basketball career in 2009, he was shot twice while buying juice at a convenience store. The trauma left him in excruciating pain, with mounting medical debt, and struggling to cope with deep anxiety and fear. That was the same year the national incarceration rate peaked. Yet, despite thousands of new tough-on-crime policies and billions of new dollars pumped into “justice,” Aswad never received victim compensation, support, or even basic levels of concern. In the name of victims, justice bureaucracies ballooned while most victims remained on their own.

In In Their Names, Lenore Anderson, president of one of the nation’s largest reform advocacy organizations, offers a close look at how the political call to help victims in the 1980s morphed into a demand for bigger bureaucracies and more incarceration, and cemented the long- standing chasm that exists between most victims and the justice system. She argues that the powerful myth that mass incarceration benefits victims obscures recognition of what most victims actually need, including addressing trauma, which is a leading cause of subsequent violent crime.

A solutions-oriented, paradigm-shifting book, In Their Names argues persuasively for closing the gap between our public safety systems and crime survivors.


“This timely book reveals an explosive truth: mass incarceration—built in the names of crime victims—doesn’t serve their true interests. Instead of longer prison sentences, Lenore Anderson shows how most victims want and need a new approach to safety, rooted in healing, care, and redress. In Their Names deserves a wide audience, from policy-makers to ordinary citizens alike.”
—James Forman Jr., Yale Law School professor and author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Locking Up Our Own
“A startling wake-up call to the grave mistakes the nation has made in revictimizing victims. Masterfully written, the book’s moving stories will inspire anyone to reevaluate our culture’s definition of safety and its concrete steps will provide a way forward to a more humane future. It should be required reading. Brava, Lenore Anderson!”
—Susan Burton, founder of A New Way of Life and author of Becoming Ms. Burton
“A work of tremendous wisdom and compassion. Lenore Anderson shatters a foundational myth—that one person’s suffering can make another whole—and offers a vision of justice and healing that is generous enough to encompass all of us.”
—Nell Bernstein, author of Burning Down the House
“This well-researched, results-driven, and readable work challenges ideas of victimhood and offers a way forward from mass incarceration to true public safety.”
“A passionate and provocative indictment of how the victims’ rights movement has warped the American justice system. . . . Throughout, Anderson documents harrowing miscarriages of justice and expresses heartfelt compassion for victims, inmates, and their families. The result is a lucid road map for a more humane criminal justice system.”
Publishers Weekly
“This book is a game-changer, taking what we think we know about crime victims and public safety and turning it on its head. Chock-full of breakthrough insights, compelling stories, compassion, and clarity, this urgent call for a new justice system is a must-read for everyone who cares about safety.”
—Van Jones, CNN contributor and host of Uncommon Ground
“One of the most effective criminal justice reformers America has ever had takes a break from her frontline work to show the damage that has come from misrepresenting victims; why respecting victims would change everything; and what a system built on real justice for victims would look like. This seminal book provides a road map to a saner and more effective system.”
—David Kennedy, director of National Network for Safe Communities and John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor
“This book represents a vital missing piece in the scholarly arsenal of our fight against mass incarceration, not only tracing the role of so-called victim’s rights movements in creating the carceral state but showcasing how the very concept of ‘victim’ has been racialized and weaponized throughout American history. A must-read.”
—Baz Dreisinger, John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor and author of Incarceration Nations
“Persuasive and well-written.”
Library Journal
“A timely and appreciated contribution to our national dialogue on crime.”
Midwest Book Review

News and Reviews

Literary Hub

Read an excerpt from In Their Names in Literary Hub.

The Conversation

Listen to an interview with Lenore Anderson about In Their Names on TYT’s The Conversation.

Publishers Weekly

Read a review of Lenore Anderson's In Their Names in Publishers Weekly.

Goodreads Reviews