Book Preview: Ordinary Injustice

I’ve begun reading Amy Bach’s new book, Ordinary Injustice, How America Holds Court.  She’s had me by the end of the introduction. 

When I’m done, I’ll write a proper review, but I’m just so darned excited about the book that I want to post something immediately.  This is the first book I’ve ever read that is steely clear that the failure of our the criminal justice system isn’t found in the spectacular but the mundane.  It’s our routine, the acceptance of doing things the way they’ve always been done, moving people through the system like cattle and shrugging off the details that distinguish justice from the assembly line.

Amy Bach has a post up at Huff Po which gives a slight, though somewhat misleading, view of what she’s up to.  In this teaser piece, she talks about a few of the higher profile cases reflecting failure of the system.  This really doesn’t reflect what she does in the book, which avoids the low hanging fruit of big time failures for the less gaudy, but infinitely more pervasive, banal failures.


Ordinary Injustice results when a community of legal professionals becomes so accustomed to a pattern of lapses that they can no longer see their role in them.  There are times when an alarming miscarriage of justice does come to light, and exposes the complacency within the system, but in such instances the public often blames a single player, be it a judge, a prosecutor, or a defense attorney. 

While it is convenient to isolate misconduct, targeting an individual only obscures what is truly going on from the scrutiny change requires. The system involves too many players to hold only one accountable for the routine injustice happening in courtrooms across America.
Never has it been said so clearly, and so well.  Ordinary Injustice has the potential to be the wake-up call that all of us involved in the criminal justice system need.   Bach leaves no one in the system untouched, as well she shouldn’t. 

While I will withhold judgment until I’ve finished the book, my reading thus far leads me to believe that this book is the real McCoy, and that Amy Bach has nailed it. I had almost given up on book review, having read a number of books which appeared to have great promise, only to be sorely disappointed that the content failed to live up to its promise.  This doesn’t appear to be the case with Ordinary Injustice.  It’s already surpassed my expectations.

This book could be the “must read” we’ve been waiting for.  I just thought you ought to know.

19 thoughts on “Book Preview: Ordinary Injustice

  1. John Neff

    Callous indifference plus relentless pressure to increase fine, court cost and surcharge revenues leads to routine injustice. There is no effective constituency for the Justice Branch and as a consequence the legislators view it as a cash cow.

  2. Thomas R. Griffith

    Sir, the non-review preview is sending me straight to a book store. Someone of your caliber & experience could cash in big time on the Pre-Review Preview circuit. Then there’s all that reading & reading… & depositing all of those darn checks.

  3. Dr. SunWolf

    Just received my copy of Ordinary Injustice and am already wildly trying to think of new places to spread it. My law students will definitely get a big dose, but I think it’ll provoke critical thinking for undergrads, as well. [They already find it hard to believe that our country rounded up all the Japanese CITIZENS, confiscated their property, and locked them in camps; they have only a vague idea of what was done to indigenous tribal people; even the 1950s segregation (lunch counters, stores, hotels, buses) are more myth to them than evidence of what other Americans would support. Sigh.

    Does anyone actually know the author?

  4. Thomas R. Griffith

    Sir, thanks a million for taking time out of your busy schedule to pass on helpful info. on a daily basis.

  5. Ken Mackenzie

    England had a similar wake up call in the mid 1990s with a book by a group of sociologists called “Standing Accused: The organisation and practices of defence lawyers.” It identified a culture of trial-shy plea dealers who started with the assumption their client was guilty. The book helped spark a movement towards better quality well-funded defence work. I hope Ordinary Injustice will have a similar effect in your jurisdiction.

  6. SHG

    I can only hope that anyone is listening, but if so, this may well be the book to do it.  Damn, I wish I had written it.

  7. Thomas R. Griffith

    Sir, in a way, you’ve been writing about “it” from the very beginning. Victims of the system and attorney / lawyers learn valuable information on a daily basis. Ultamately and without a doubt, translating into less wrongful convictions and cases being turned over. Now, if there was only a book on eradicating Prosecutorial Misconduct we would be set. I know, aint happening any time soon. (or is it?)

    The Books topic and remidies, beg for constant attention in the form of additional books and courses from folks like yourself. I think pig will fly before we see any mass marches to reform the cash cow Mr. Neff mentions. I hope this topic is revisited throughout your reading time and beyond. Good reading & good day, Sir.

  8. Amy Bach

    Thank you for the notice. The book is really a call for action for Americans to take back their courts. The problem is that we can’t change what we can’t see. How do we make these invisible patterns of injustice obvious so that they can be addressed? Ultimately, the book calls for monitoring and measurement. So that we can see the kinds of errors being made. The leading scholars all agree that as of now courts are the most unexamined public institutions in America. North Carolina has set up a system to measure the success of their courts. But we need to start monitoring on a broader basis. We measure so many things in our society. Why do we leave our courts so completely alone?

  9. SHG

    It was a pleasure meeting you at your book launch.  That was quite a night for you, and well deserved.  I look forward to a chance to talk about the book in some greater depth, when you aren’t surrounded by adoring fans.

  10. SHG

    It remains on the top of the stack, but you can’t read my review until I’ve finished reading the book and writing the review.  It will come.  The stack, by the way, is about 10 books high at the moment.

  11. Thomas R. Griffith

    Sir, is it safe to say to Mr. Neff, “Don’t wait, get it now”?
    I was hooked by your Book Preview and it was on by pg.6 of the Intro. Thanks a million.

    *FYI- I turned Senator Jim Webb of Va. on to Simple Justice & Ms. Amy Bach due to his National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009 (S.714).
    He’s looking for the brightest minds, I hope you two enlist as a duo. It’d be great if you, Bach, Bennett & Grits were all on board. Just a wild & crazy thought. [email protected]

  12. John Neff

    The criminal justice system is a confederation of independent agencies with a common set of clients. There is no effective constituency and if there were general oversight that revealed critical problems no entity has the authority to fix the problem. In other words oversight has to be done agency by agency.

    In practice the police oversee themselves (citizen review boards have been nullified). It is theoretically possible that peer review of the police might be effective (some departments have requested peer review).

    Jails are inspected (very perfunctory inspections in some cases) by the state. On occasion when there is serious problem a prison will be peer reviewed otherwise legislative oversight is about it.

    I am unaware of any cases of peer review of a court.
    If a citizen or a set of citizens were to monitor the courts and published their findings would anything change as a result? If they were to target a specific judge that approach could cause far more harm than good. I think peer review is the only approach that is likely to result in improvements.

    In your book you talked how monitoring at the jail could reveal that a judge is setting bonds too high. That is something that I have done and one of our judges does set high bonds (not $25,000 but too high for the accused to pay) but then reduces them a few days later. He says he wants them to have a lawyer but there is more to it than that because he also wants the money for the fines (the fines are effectively prepaid). Everyone knows about this and there are continuous complaints and the situation has been going on for years. People ask if nothing is going to change why bother with monitoring?

  13. Thomas R. Griffith

    Mr. Neff, I see that you received your copy of OI. Most of your questions regarding unethical judges & how to go about it will be answered in chapter 2. Read on.

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