Radical Acts of Justice
How Ordinary People are Dismantling Mass Incarceration
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, community bail funds surged, as a form of protest and a focus of philanthropic energy. While they were hardly new, bail funds garnered attention as an effective and individual means of responding to the failures of the police and the courts and a way to channel outrage in a pandemic era. And these funds have made a difference – after months of uprisings, thousands of protesters and ordinary people were freed from jail as millions of dollars were donated to bail funds nationwide.
In Radical Acts of Justice: How Ordinary People are Dismantling Mass Incarceration, Jocelyn Simonson, who has written extensively about the ways that social movements shift our views of justice, looks at bail funds and other ground-up actions that are, one by one, effecting social change and contesting preconceived notions about freedom and safety. She explores the problematic idea that individuals who are prosecuted are not the people who matter when it comes to politics. Actions like bail funds, courtwatching, and people’s budgets give agency to these individuals and their families and loved ones, and force us to recognize the deep forms of violence in each and every corner of the carceral state.
By focusing on the reforms that shift power to the people who are most directly affected by the system, Radical Acts of Justice proposes that communal resistance within the system is a form of justice-making itself. The stories of grassroots activism that Jocelyn Simonson follows are a reminder of the power, and unpredictability, of planting many seeds. These forms of resistance open up transformational possibilities that would otherwise elude us and that can lead to change that is both urgent and necessary.
Published by The New Press
Praise for Radical Acts of Justice
By highlighting grassroots collective actions, [Radical Acts of Justice] presents a new perspective on what justice can look like and how ordinary people can reshape our criminal justice system.—Brooklyn Eagle
Drawing on case studies and firsthand experience, Simonson persuasively shows how engaging in ‘collective work’ enables communities to challenge a seemingly implacable system. This is a must-read for justice system reform advocates. —Publishers Weekly
Simonson gives an overview of the guiding purpose, methods, and outcomes of grassroots movements challenging the criminal justice status quo. — Booklist
[An] impassioned account of grassroots responses to mass incarceration.— Kirkus
A well-written survey of groups pushing for change in the criminal justice system. . . . Criminal-reform advocates will enjoy this primer. — Library Journal
“This sophisticated work of nonfiction presents an argument that the American carceral system can be resisted and broken down by regular folks, rather than experts and elites.”
Jocelyn Simonson is one of the great up-and-coming legal intellectuals. But this book is much more than something very smart and well-written. It is an exploration of an essential new shift in forms of participatory democracy, and everyone should read it and then get involved in their local community with these new forms of community empowerment—the significance of which she so expertly explains to a wider audience. — Alec Karakatsanis, founder and executive director of Civil Rights Corps and author of Usual Cruelty
An important, sophisticated, and often inspiring book about how the human beings most affected by our criminal system are challenging and changing it from within. With scholarly rigor, passion, and deep on-the-ground expertise, Simonson reveals a vibrant world of ongoing collective action and offers a rich new understanding of public safety.
— Alexandra Natapoff, professor of law, Harvard Law School, and author of Punishment Without Crime
A deeply inspiring account of communities coming together to reclaim and reshape fundamental definitions of safety, justice, and the law itself. A lesson and a road map for organizers everywhere. — Baz Dreisinger, professor of English, John Jay College, founder of Prison-to-College Pipeline, and author of Incarceration Nations
Jocelyn Simonson provides a lucid bird’s-eye view of the essential sites of organizing and collective work against the carceral state—bail funds, participatory defense hubs, people’s budgets and more—that have proliferated in the last decade. This book is indispensable for anyone trying to understand racial justice politics and criminal law reform today.
— Amna Akbar, professor of law, Ohio State University