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Final thoughts about America’s Criminal Justice System

21 September 2011

Summary:  The great potential of the American experiment, the American dream, is a gift handed down from generation to generation from the Founders to us.  But we have forgotten what it means.  That is the major significance to the collapse of our criminal justice system; like a mirror, it shows who we are.  At the end are links to other posts in this series.

For we must consider that we shall be a city upon a hill.  The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword though the world.
— John Winthrop, A Model of Christian Charity (1630)

The essence of self-government is not freedom.  Not rights.  Not prosperity.  Those are its rewards for people who work hard and have good fortune (hoped for but never guaranteed).  The essence of self-government is responsibility.  We assume responsibility for ourselves, for our government, for our nation.  That should weigh heavily on us, and motivate us to do whatever it takes to properly run America.

“It’s not my fault” is the motto of peons.  Comforting.  But such beliefs demotivate us, breaking the cogs from the gears that should drive the Constitutional machinery.

Which brings us back to our criminal justice system.  Many will say that however shameful, however destructive of those enmeshed in it, reform must wait for better times.  External enemies (we always have those).  Economic problems.  Dysfunctional politics.  Social problems.  Especially since it afflicts just criminals.

But the justice system occupies a unique position in the State.  An exercise of power we give the State to exercise on fellow citizens, for which we bear the direct responsibility.  Worse, a corrupt and abusive criminal justice system can become a danger to us — the servant of our increasingly out of control governing elites.

Please read though the first two chapters of this series.  Fifty-two articles detailing shameful abuses.  Like health care, we suffer from poorly performing institutions doing functions done much better by almost all of our peers in the developed world.  It is sad reading.  There is not much to say about this, other than to quote John 11:35:

Jesus wept.

We can do better.

Other posts about our criminal justice system

  1. An opportunity to look in the mirror, to more clearly see America, 10 November 2009 — About our prisons
  2. Nixon declared war on drugs, a major investment of America in itself – but one that’s gone bad, 21 May 2010
  3. The Feds decide who to lock up for life (not just at Guantanamo), another nail in the Constitution’s coffin, 2 June 2010
  4. Being a third world nation is a state of mind, as we will learn (about prison rape), 19 March 2011
  5. Our prisons are a mirror showing the soul of America.  It’s not a pretty picture., 28 March 2011
  6. The Collapse of American Criminal Justice System — Excerpts from The Collapse of American Criminal Justice by William J. Stuntz
  7. More about the collapse of the American Criminal Justice System — Studies and reports about our shameful system.
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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Elle permalink
    21 September 2011 12:56 pm

    So will next spring be the “American spring” where the “reforms” are enacted and the jailers and bankers end up in their creations?

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    • 21 September 2011 1:14 pm

      My crystal ball is cracked, but almost anything is possible if one looks out into the distant future. However, I think this conflates two seperate issues.

      (1) Jail the jailers?

      Our supermax prisions, crowded to the brim — as we imprision at far higher rates than do civilized nations. As free people, we should assume responsibility for the system, not slide it off to the blue-collar workers we hire to run the jails.

      (2) Jail the bankers

      That’s a different aspect of the breakdown of the ciminal justice system than I discuss in this series. But real and important: how elites have become almost above the law. Glenn Greenwald at Salon (and others) have documented this, another symptom of the new political regime evolving in America. We we choose to be sheep, then there will be shepards and wolves.

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  2. 21 September 2011 3:42 pm

    Having read these three posts on Criminal Justice I must say I believe both you and the recent book author to be very much on track. One issue that I am not sure if Mr. Stuntz addressed though is now much the nature of the Criminal Justice system and its breakdown are but a reflection of the culture in which it operates. The ideals of rule of law within a republic which began this country have been shed by war, social change and loss of faith over a long period. I suspect that the breakdown they system closely mirrors the changes outside the system.

    Having worked in both a private and public capacity in the Criminal Justice system, and having long kept close tabs on it I can say this unequivocally; the last place on earth you should hope to find the truth is inside a courtroom.

    The more we know about this rot and collapse the more we should weep not only for the broken system, but for the broken society which produced it.

    C.L. Ingram

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  3. Pluto permalink
    21 September 2011 10:54 pm

    Your posts on the Criminal Justice system have moved me to write something profound. Unfortunately I can’t think of anything profound to say. All I can do is let you know that you’re having an impact.

    Like

  4. dgalbi permalink
    23 September 2011 2:26 am

    The collapse of the criminal justice system has had very broad effects via family law. I estimate that 50,000 persons are in jail or prison on any given day for child-support debt. Essentially, we’ve recreated debtor prisons.

    But the situation is actually worse than that. A man can wind up imprisoned for child-support debt having taken no action other than having sex. Fatherhood has been legally reduced to having sex, with the ensuing threat of imprisonment for not them paying money legally required by virtue of doing nothing other than having sex.

    Very basic aspects of human nature are now enmeshed in the collapse of the U.S. justice system.

    Like

  5. Atlantic: "At State Courts, Budgets Are Tight and Lives Are in Limbo" permalink
    26 September 2011 1:23 am

    At State Courts, Budgets Are Tight and Lives Are in Limbo“, Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic, 23 September 2011 — “Slashed funding and judicial layoffs have left too many Americans waiting for their cases to be heard” Opening:

    Nothing bespeaks third-world justice more than barriers to the courthouse. Nothing suggests a breach of the rule of law more than a government’s refusal or inability to resolve its citizens’ disputes in an orderly way. And yet all over America, courtrooms are being closed to litigants, precluding people and corporations alike from having their rights and responsibilities efficently adjudicated by state court judges.

    How would you like to be a plaintiff in New Hampshire, seeking to recover damages for the breach of a contract, only to be told that your case is automatically on hold for one year? How would you like to be the litigant seeking to get to a jury trial, only to be told that it will be years before the judge and her staff will have the time and the courtroom space to make it happen? How would you like to be the guy waiting in limbo to have his divorce decreed final? …

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  6. Salon: "NYCs extraordinary, continuing decrease in crime had little to do with Giuliani. An expert explains why." permalink
    20 November 2011 6:13 am

    What really cleaned up New York“, Salon, 19 November 2011 — “The city’s extraordinary, continuing decrease in crime had little to do with Giuliani. An expert explains why.”

    If you compare New York in 2011 to New York in 1990, it seems hard to believe that it’s the same city. In the 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s, New York was viewed as one of the world’s most dangerous metropolises — a cesspool of violence and danger depicted in gritty films like “The Warriors” and “Escape From New York.” Friends who lived here during that time talk of being terrified to use the subway, of being mugged outside their apartments, and an overwhelming tide of junkies. Thirty-one one of every 100,000 New Yorkers were murdered each year, and 3,668 were victims of larceny.

    Today, in an astonishing twist, New York is one of the safest cities in the country. Its current homicide rate is 18 percent of its 1990 total — its auto theft rate is 6 percent. The drop exceeded the wildest dreams of crime experts of the 1990s, and it’s a testament to this transformation that New Yorkers now seem more likely to complain about the city’s dullness than about its criminality.

    In his fascinating new book, “The City that Became Safe,” Franklin Zimring, a professor of law and chairman of the Criminal Justice Research Program at the University of California at Berkeley, looks at the real reasons behind that change — and his conclusions might surprise you. Contrary to popular belief, Giuliani’s “zero tolerance” bluster had little to do with it. Instead, it was a combination of strategic policing and harm reduction by the New York Police Department. Police targeted open-air drug markets, and went after guns, while leaving drug users largely alone. The implications of the strategy could make us revise not only the way we think about crime, but the way we think about our prison system and even human nature.

    Like

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