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Getting Justice and Getting Even: Legal Consciousness Among Working-Class Americans

NCJ Number
S E Merry
Date Published
237 pages
Information on the handling of family and neighborhood problems brought to court by citizen plaintiffs in Cambridge and Salem, Mass., formed the basis of this analysis of the views of working-class Americans regarding the law and their experiences with courts and mediation.
The data were gathered during 1980-83 in Salem and during 1981-84 in Cambridge. Information came from observations of mediation sessions, court observations, and interviews with plaintiffs and defendants. The research produced detailed documentation of more than 150 problems. Findings indicated that the use of the court was usually a last resort. Plaintiffs expected the courts to be sources of help, but their experiences led them to view courts as erratic, unreliable, and sometimes ineffective. When they did not succeed in court, plaintiffs were quick to conclude that personal influence existed. Findings also suggested that they repeatedly return to court because they have no alternative and because they regard the law as preferable to violence. Results also indicated the paradox of entitlement to legal recourse: going to court enables an individual to dominate domestic relationships, but the litigant must increasingly yield control of the question to the court that supplies that power. Chapter notes, index, and 218 references.


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