Imperfect Justice: A Review of Dr. Anthony Bradley’s Thoughts on Overcriminalization

“Civil institutions and personal virtue are the means to change the conversation, not the government.”

Dr. Anthony Bradley, a professor of religion, theology, and ethics at the King’s College recently wrote the book, Ending Overcriminalization and Mass Incarceration, Hope from a Civil Society. The book lays out the problems in the criminal justice system and the prudential public policy working in the states to eliminate such problems. Bradley correctly identifies the problem of the system yet intuitively centers his argument on human dignity and mutual love and respect. Reform, in Bradley’s words, “must be built from the person up,” and society will then change for the better. Crime trends are going down, but criminalization and imprisonment are rising higher than ever.

Source: Brennan Center for Justice, “Just Facts: As Many Americans Have Criminal Records as College Diplomas,”

The Pipeline Problem

One of the most immediate problems is the school to prison pipeline. The pipeline is a metaphor for the direct route that minority and inner-city communities perpetuate. Environments of constriction, limitations, and fear. Most politicians see crime as a sickness with prison as the remedy to separate the rulebreakers. A misbehaving child without a father or mother is not a juvenile but a free individual instilled with freedom to dream and aspire. The destruction of the family becomes a generational issue when fathers or mothers send themselves to prison, out of the home. The ensuing strain places itself on the rest of the family. If the family member leaves the prison system and is set on the path to reform, then over the next couple years one can expect to check the felon box on job applications, hundreds of labels, social strains, PTSD, and temptation to revert to crime.

Prosecutorial Overreach

The system is not just sick in the schools and homes, but the criminal justice system as well. Prosecutors, for Bradley, exhibit too much discretionary and broad sweeping power, forcing plea bargains 90-95% of the time. Prosecutors can squash any public defender in their endeavors for a fair trial and cripple their ability to fight back with minimum sentencing requirements. Prosecutors have access to more recourses and look good when they are tough on crime. The people they put away cannot vote and are fear mongered into taking what sentence prosecutors give them. Government policies can only go so far in changing Americans’ minds about criminals and mercy and inevitably come short of any level of virtue.

Reform must start in the hearts and minds of the American people. Bradley finishes his critiques in a powerful way, “the most powerful weapon and deterrent against deviance and criminal activity is love” (211). Love is the key ingredient to heal the nation of separating those that are “different” from the rest of us by means of prisons. Later, Bradley identifies “government policies do not inspire love.” Bradley wishes for a personalist conceptual framework to lead the nation into preservation of dignity and the upholding of American values for delinquents and victims. Civil institutions and personal virtue are the means to change the conversation, not the government. The path Bradley suggests is one of love and mercy and ideas such as those ought to deserve more recognition in times such as these.


Kyle is a junior studying political science. Growing up in Hudson, Ohio, Kyle developed an interest in politics from studying the American founding in his high school history classes. Kyle is the junior class president in the Student Government Association, as well as on the social executive team for Orientation Board, welcoming new freshmen on campus.

The past couple of summers, Kyle has worked at Camp Mission Meadows as their programing director, overseeing the entire summer camp program and staff. He hopes to enter the national security field after graduation. Kyle hopes to eliminate the threat of terrorism while promoting faith and freedom.