John Hagedorn, who has long been an expert witness in gang-related court cases, claims that what transpires in the trials of gang members is a far cry from what we would consider justice. In Gangs on Trial, he recounts his decades of experience to show how stereotypes are used against gang members on trial and why that is harmful. Hagedorn uses real-life stories to explain how implicit bias often replaces evidence and how the demonization of gang members undermines fairness. Moreover, a “them and us” mentality leads to snap judgments that ignore the complexity of gang life in America.
Gangs on Trial dispels myths about gangs and recommends tactics for lawyers, mitigation specialists, and expert witnesses as well as offering insights for jurors. Hagedorn describes how minds are subconsciously “primed” when a defendant is identified as a gang member, and discusses the “backfire effect,” which occurs when jurors hear arguments that run counter to their beliefs. He also reveals how attributional errors, prejudice, and racism impact sentences of nonwhite defendants.
Hagedorn argues that dehumanization is the psychological foundation of mass incarceration. Gangs on Trial advocates for practical sentencing reforms and humanizing justice.
John M. Hagedorn is Professor Emeritus of Criminology, Law, and Justice and James J. Stukel Faculty Fellow, Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois, Chicago. He is the author or editor of seven books, including The In$ane Chicago Way: The Daring Plan by Chicago Gangs to Create a Spanish Mafia; A World of Gangs: Armed Young Men and Gangsta Culture; and People and Folks: Gangs, Crime, and the Underclass in a Rustbelt City. He has consulted in 73 gang related court cases, including 60 for homicide.
“Gangs on Trial is a great read—part memoir, part case study, and a full plea for the reform of our criminal legal system. Hagedorn takes readers on a journey of social psychology to disabuse the stereotypical threat and the often-misapplied label of ‘gang related.’ His book is essential reading for those involved in or concerned about criminal ‘justice.’ He provides thoughtfully told stories of heartbreak, redemption, and perseverance with attention paid to the racism and racial dynamics that are ever-present in the legal system. Finally, and most importantly, Hagedorn reminds us that compassion is integral to humanity and that we are all more than the worst thing we have ever done." —Randolph Stone, retired Clinical Professor of Law at the University of Chicago and former public defender
"Using 18 case studies, Hagedorn illustrates how he sought to refute prosecutorial claims of gang violence. His goal is to offer a mixture of academic research and emotional appeal to shift the focus away from the gang and onto a human being facing adverse circumstances. The resulting mixture is accessible to wider audiences.... The circumstances of each case study maintain readers' interest. The writing is clear and succinct... [H]is point of view is important and often lacking in the literature... Summing Up: Recommended."—Choice
"Hagedorn gives us an inside look at how our legal system still often operates from a frame of demonization of criminal actors, especially the most stigmatic.... Furthermore, he gives readers tools on how to potentially reframe prosecutorial stereotypes of gang members into terms juries can understand, what he defines as the principal role of gang experts. Gangs on Trial is a great example of the merging of empirical research and applied social justice practice in a critical examination of the U.S. criminal justice system."—Contemporary Sociology