by Barbara Belbot and Craig Hemmens. El Paso: LFB Scholarly Publishing LLC, 2010. 262pp. Paper $42.95. ISBN: 9781593324247.
Reviewed by Raymond G. Kessler, Department of Criminal Justice, Sul Ross State University. E-mail: rkessler [at] sulross.edu.
This 6” x 9” paperback has big aspirations for such a small tome. Fortunately, it mostly delivers. The goal of the authors, Barbara Belbot and Craig Hemmens, was to create a small and readable, but still relatively comprehensive, book about the constitutional rights of the convicted in the United States. The text covers not only prison convicts, but also those in jails, community corrections programs and probation and parole. Although suited for a variety of audiences, the primary market is probably undergraduate texts for criminal justice programs. They write that “students who are or are aspiring to become criminal justice professionals” must “understand the extent to which correctional supervision is governed by the law . . .” (p. 3). Both authors teach criminal justice at the university level.
The opening chapter provides a concise but excellent review of the history of the prisoners’ civil rights movement. It also covers the basic legal concepts, such as stare decisis, necessary to understand the law.
There are two chapters on First Amendment rights followed by single chapters on the Fourth Amendment, use of force, due process rights, and cruel and unusual punishment. The final three chapters cover litigation and reform, probation and parole, and civil liability of correctional personnel. The chapter on liability does an excellent job of concisely covering qualified immunity and related topics.
As might be expected, most of the material involves U.S. Supreme Court decisions and federal statutes. There are occasional separate text boxes in most chapters summarizing the important points, providing further discussion, or providing examples. More of these are needed as a foil to the text which sometimes seems to proceed at break-neck speed. There are also occasional references to and discussions of, some of the research on related issues. At the end of each chapter are “Discussion Questions” and “Suggested Readings and References.”
At the back of the text are a glossary, and short summaries of the major U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Both are very valuable. There is no “Table of Cases,” but the cases are included in a general index. All of these are well-done and valuable tools for students and general readers.
Belbot and Hemmens cover a tremendous amount of material in a concise fashion, but do so in a generally clear and easily readable manner. This is no small achievement. They point out the key issues, and show excellent insight into the historical, political, legal [*213] and practical dimensions. As you might expect, this book is not light or leisure reading.
There is obviously lots of law in this book. In addition to summarizing the law, its evolution and history are covered. There is also some “politics.” The authors discuss the issues regarding federal court supervision of state prisons and jails and the controversy behind the 1996 federal Prison Litigation Reform Act. They note that convicted prisoners rarely have significant political clout and thus must look to the courts for redress.
Thankfully, Belbot and Hemmens are not looking for scapegoats and present the material in a balanced fashion. For instance, both sides of the argument about positive and negative impacts of prisoners’ rights lawsuits and federal court intervention are discussed. The complex and serious difficulties of prison employees and administrators are recognized. Although some writers bash the conservatives on the Supreme Court, these writers remain relatively agnostic.
This reviewer has taught courses on this topic and would strongly recommend this book to other instructors. It would also be valuable for others looking for a concise overview of this area of the law and related issues.
© Copyright 2011 by the author, Raymond G. Kessler.