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Book Review

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This essay reviews three recently published books that further explore this insight in the twentieth century. At first glance, vagrancy laws, the free will problem, and criminal records may seem to share little in common. But each study illuminates how criminal laws have defined our nation by creating what historian Barbara Welke has termed "borders of belonging," a boundary that laws create between people who enjoy full citizenship and those who do not. After all, a conviction and imprisonment are acts of social and political exclusion. Even the policing of suspected offenders often reveals who does not completely belong.

The reviewed books are also distinctly modern tales, in which questions of identity – whether and which individuals are free to determine and reimagine who they are – inform both the workings of the criminal justice system and inclusion into the body politic. In addition to highlighting the importance of criminal justice to constitutional studies, this review essay brings attention to what history can offer legal scholars, law students, and activists.


Constitutional Law | Criminal Law | Criminal Procedure | Fourth Amendment | Law


Vagrant Nation by Risa Goluboff, Oxford University Press, 2016, pp. 471, $29.95.

Freedom and Criminal Responsibility in American Legal Thought by Thomas Andrew Green, Cambridge University Press, 2014, pp. 520, $88.00.

The Eternal Criminal Record by James B. Jacobs, Harvard University Press, 2015, pp. 416, $39.95.