Judging the System


Oddly enough, in this era of political polarization both parties seem to agree that there’s plenty wrong with our criminal justice system.  If  they share this view, imagine how deficient the system must be.  Off hand, I can think of any number of issues that  need to be addressed.

  • Should judges be elected or appointed?  We’ve never really made up our minds about that.  Currently either way is problematical.  Should another approach be considered?
  • It’s been demonstrated that if you know the political party identification of a particular judge there’s an excellent chance you can predict how he or she will decide specific cases.  Whatever happened to impartiality?
  • Our criminal courts would be hopelessly jammed were it not for the prevalence of plea bargaining, i.e., the accused admitting to a lesser crime and receiving a sentence less severe.  Is that the way justice was supposed to be handed out?
  • Get yourself a high priced attorney and you stand a good chance of receiving a lighter sentence or even an acquittal.  Have an “ordinary” lawyer by your side and you will likely not fare as well.  In addition, white collar criminals, when convicted, generally receive lighter sentences than those judged guilty of other crimes.
  •  If you’re poor, consider yourself fortunate if there is an attorney available to take your case.  Legal aid lawyers are often hard to come by, and even when indigent clients obtain one  he or she may be burdened with heavy caseloads, leaving them unable to provide adequate representation.
  • More often than we may expect, individuals convicted of capital crimes are later determined to have been innocent.
  • Crime lab errors often lead to improper convictions.  Thousands of rape kits are never examined or evaluated.
  • Individuals accused of crimes may well languish for months in jail or even longer before coming to trial.
  • Studies of the decision-making process undertaken by juries are enough to make one wince.
  • Mounting arrests for minor violations and “low level”, especially drug-related crimes, have become a cause for concern across the U. S.
  • Longer jail time and prison sentences for members of certain minority populations have been well documented.
  • Police forces across the U.S (disproportionately white) have been accused of racial insensitivity and of either providing less coverage in minority neighborhoods or of being heavy handed in those locations.
  • American prisons (often for-profit entities) have more prisoners than most any other nation in the world and the overall costs of incarceration across the nation have become extremely burdensome.(some 80 billion dollars.)
  • Too often, jails and prisons are overcrowded, gang infested, over-use solitary confinement and contain large numbers of inmates with severe mental disorders.  Rehabilitation programs, where they exist, have low success rates.
  • Reintegration of former inmates into society and into the workforce remains a major problem.  And obstacles to reacquiring the right to vote after release are many.

Like most Americans, I don’t follow the “ins and outs” of our criminal justice system.  Still, look how lengthy and disturbing is the above list.  Imagine how much broader the indictment if those better acquainted with the system would add to this account.

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