Go Directly to Jail

The Criminalization of Almost Everything


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About the Book

At one time, the sanction of the criminal law was reserved for serious, morally culpable offenders. But during the past 40 years, an unholy alliance of tough-on-crime conservatives and anti-big-business liberals has utterly transformed the criminal law. Today, while violent crime often goes unpunished, Congress continues to add new, trivial offenses to the federal criminal code. With more than 4,000 federal offenses on the statute books, and thousands more buried in the Code of Federal Regulations, it is now frighteningly easy for American citizens to be hauled off to jail for actions that no reasonable person would regard as crimes. At the same time, rampant federalization and mandatory minimum sentencing are making America’s criminal justice system ever more centralized and punitive. The result is a labyrinthine criminal code, a burgeoning prison population, and often real injustice. Go Directly to Jail examines those alarming trends and proposes reforms that could rein in a criminal justice apparatus at war with fairness and common sense.

Contributors include
Erik Luna, Associate Professor of Law, University of Utah
James V. DeLong, Senior Fellow, Progress & Freedom Foundation
Timothy Lynch, Director, Cato Institute’s Project on Criminal Justice
Grace-Marie Turner, Founder and President, Galen Institute, Inc.

About the Editor

Gene Healy is senior editor at the Cato Institute. He holds a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School and is a member of the Virginia and District of Columbia bars. His articles have been published in the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and elsewhere. He resides in Washington, D.C.

What Others Have Said

“Watch out, Mr. or Ms. Businessperson! The federal government can regulate you right into the poorhouse or a jail cell. If you are looking for a scholarly and comprehensive examination of why every businessperson needs to look for a lawyer before seeking customers, this is it.”
—Judge Andrew P. Napolitano, Senior Judicial Analyst, Fox News Channel

“The dramatic expansion of federal criminal law in recent decades has made it distressingly easy for prosecutors to ‘make a federal case’ out of matters more properly handled at the state level or by civil remedies. That phenomenon makes it more likely that ordinary businesspeople risk being jailed for run-of-the-mill commercial dealings that traditionally have been handled by contract and tort law. With this timely volume, Cato draws attention to an important—and too often ignored—legal problem.”
—Miguel Estrada, Co-Chair, Appellate and Constitutional Law Practice Group, Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher, Washington, D.C.


Number of Pages: 
Publication Date: 
November 25, 2004