Book Talk: Privilege and Punishment with Author Matthew Clair

How Race and Class Matter in Criminal Court

A Conversation with Author Matthew Clair, Assistant Professor of Sociology and (by courtesy) Law, Stanford University

About the Book

Please join us for a discussion of Matthew Clair’s new book, Privilege and Punishment (Princeton University Press, 2020).

Privilege and Punishment

The number of Americans arrested, brought to court, and incarcerated has skyrocketed in recent decades. Criminal defendants come from all races and economic walks of life, but they experience punishment in vastly different ways. Privilege and Punishment examines how racial and class inequalities are embedded in the attorney-client relationship, providing a devastating portrait of inequality and injustice within and beyond the criminal courts.

Matthew Clair conducted extensive fieldwork in the Boston court system, attending criminal hearings and interviewing defendants, lawyers, judges, police officers, and probation officers. In this eye-opening book, he uncovers how privilege and inequality play out in criminal court interactions. When disadvantaged defendants try to learn their legal rights and advocate for themselves, lawyers and judges often silence, coerce, and punish them. Privileged defendants, who are more likely to trust their defense attorneys, delegate authority to their lawyers, defer to judges, and are rewarded for their compliance. Clair shows how attempts to exercise legal rights often backfire on the poor and on working-class people of color, and how effective legal representation alone is no guarantee of justice.

Privilege and Punishment draws needed attention to the injustices that are perpetuated by the attorney-client relationship in today’s criminal courts, and describes the reforms needed to correct them.

This program will be an hour and a half Zoom discussion with ample opportunity for audience questions.

Sponsored by the Center for Criminal Justice.

Jocelyn Simonson
Professor of Law
Brooklyn Law School

Alexis J. Hoag
Assistant Professor of Law
Brooklyn Law School

About the Author

Matthew ClairMATTHEW CLAIR is Assistant Professor of Sociology and (by courtesy) Law at Stanford University. His scholarship broadly examines how cultural meanings and interactions reflect, reproduce, and challenge various dimensions of social inequality. In addition to his book, Professor Clair’s research has been published or is forthcoming in several academic and popular outlets, including Criminology, Social Forces, California Law Review, The Nation, Boston Review, and Public Books.