• Robert Spicer

Jessica Mitford On Law

Jessica Mitford (1917-1996) was an English author, journalist and political campaigner who became an American citizen. She identified, in the American context,

… manufacturers of unsafe cars which in the next year will have caused thousands to perish in flaming highway wrecks, absentee landlords who charge extortionate rents for rat-infested slum apartments, Madison Avenue copywriters whose job it is to manipulate the gullible into buying shoddy merchandise, manufacturers of napalm and other genocidal weapons – all operating on the safe side of the law, since none of these activities is a violation of any criminal statute. Criminal law is essentially a reflection of the values, and a codification of the self-interest, and a method of control, of the dominant class in any given society.

Mitford took her argument further by asking her readers to imagine a prison system populated primarily by well-to-do people, convicted of offences like price-fixing, political corruption, industrial pollution, criminal neglect of safety standards at work, fraudulent share dealing and the manufacture of arms. Her conclusion was:

…that this notion seems like the wildest flight of fancy is already a commentary on the class character of the prison system. After all, no one would expect that those who command political power and control the criminal justice system would use these in such a manner as to make themselves the likeliest candidates for imprisonment.

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