August 24, 2009
An important new book on criminal registries: "Knowledge as Power"
I am pleased to report the publication of this important new book by Professor Wayne Logan: "Knowledge as Power: Criminal Registration and Community Notification Laws in America." Here is a description of the book from the publisher:
Societies have long sought security by identifying potentially dangerous individuals in their midst. America is surely no exception. Knowledge as Power traces the evolution of a modern technique that has come to enjoy nationwide popularity — criminal registration laws. Registration, which originated in the 1930s as a means of monitoring gangsters, went largely unused for decades before experiencing a dramatic resurgence in the 1990s. Since then it has been complemented by community notification laws which, like the "Wanted" posters of the Frontier West, publicly disclose registrants' identifying information, involving entire communities in the criminal monitoring process.
Knowledge as Power provides the first in-depth history and analysis of criminal registration and community notification laws, examining the potent forces driving their rapid nationwide proliferation in the 1990s through today, as well as exploring how the laws have affected the nation's law, society, and governance. In doing so, the book provides compelling insights into the manifold ways in which registration and notification reflect and influence life in modern America.
Because of the modern American affinity for sex offender registries, this book is obviously a must-read for any and everyone concerned with sentencing law and policy surrounding sex offenses. But, as the title and description above details, this book covers a lot of ground that justifies everyone interest from everyone who works in or around modern criminal justice systems.
August 24, 2009 at 10:31 AM | Permalink
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Of all the titles that might apply to sex offender registries, "Knowledge as Power" seems perhaps the most unlikely, unless it's meant ironically. The "knowledge" given by registries has afforded the public little new "power" to prevent sex crimes, and in fact some research suggests they increase recidivism rates. The only members of the public who benefit are lazy journalists looking for a perennial source of voyeuristic, knock-off stories. Registries aren't important for empowering the public through knowledge, they're just another layer of punishment larded on.
Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Aug 24, 2009 6:34:27 PM
Grits, I get your points, but when I read the title, I had a different reaction. Perhaps the title doesn't refer to power as necessarily a social or moral good, but rather simply as a means of social control by one group or individual over other(s). In that case, the kind of knowledge we are talking about here would seem to qualify.
I agree that the phrase "knowledge as power" sort of invokes general, positive cultural themes about education and self-improvement that teach that aquiring knowledge is a form of self-impowerment. But for civil libertarians (among others), it is equally commonplace to equate excess knowledge on the part of the government (especially knowledge extracted upon threat of force/imprisonment) with danger and oppressive social control.
Posted by: Observer | Aug 25, 2009 10:01:07 AM
substitute "self-improvement" for "self-impowerment"
Posted by: Observer | Aug 25, 2009 10:02:57 AM
I guess I can see that, Observer, from the 30,000 feet level. My sense from looking at the Introduction to the book published on Amazon is that the author is not coming at the topic from a civil libertarian perspective.
Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Aug 26, 2009 9:17:27 AM
Interesting that this book came out around the same time as our report, "Origin of the Sex Offender Registries." (www.SOLresearch.org/SORorigin) We also found that the phenomenon dates back to an anti-gangster provision of the 1930s. It was then morphed into an anti-homosexual measure, first by the instigation of the PTA in 1940, and later by the California legislature in 1947 and 1949. It certainly wasn't "largely unused" in the 1950s, when it served as an important tool for harassment of homosexuals in the McCarthy era.
Posted by: SOL Research | Sep 9, 2009 8:49:39 AM