Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Understanding Criminal Justice in the United States

2/1/16 Justin Arn

Although Americans may have little contact with the criminal justice system on a day-to day day basis, I suspect that, deep down, most of us know there is something terribly amiss about the apprehension of "Justice" here in the United States. It is unavoidable, despite how deeply we attempt to bury our heads in the sand. After all, when was the last time you heard a happy story coming out of the United States criminal justice system?

Alright, so not too many happy tales coming our of the prison systems these days. Do you remember a few of the abuses that made headlines in recent years, though? 
Here's the clickable shortlist:
Abuse in the Criminal Justice System

Of course, abuses like that are just  scratching the surface. Yet unmentioned are how ineffective our Justice system has been at combating white collar crime, corporate abuse, and government corruption.  

It is difficult to be aware of all of this without concluding that our system does indeed seem rife with incompetent, immoral, and reckless individuals bent by every form human deviosity towards goals of personal gain, contrary to the very notion of "Justice." 

What is to be made of all of this? 
Photo: Courthouse steps.   

 I know some Police Officers. They are honorable men and women. A few of the Police Officers that I have known are could be considered racist, but not in the way that is portrayed on television.

They have friends and partners that are African-American and they treat them with the same respect and honor that they would treat a member of their own family.  You wouldn't know they were racist at all, until you heard them talk about "the black community." Then the racism comes out: the pre-judgement, the assumption of guilt, the lack of respect. These are good men, even if some of their opinions belie ignorance.  I assume their experiences have colored their worldview, and wonder if I wouldn't fall into the same trap given those experiences. 

I'm a Salesman.
Some Salesmen are ass-holes.  
Picture: The Scales of Justice are weighted against you. They'll sell you defective products and steal your money while lying to your face the entire time. If you define Sales by your experience with one of these gents, however, you will limit your understanding of the sales process and it will be you who suffers. 

   To scrap our entire Justice system because of the actions of a few cops, or guards, or lawyers may be just as foolish and ignorant. I have never personally met a Police Officer that I didn't believe genuinely wanted to chase bad guys and help people. The real problem is that when Salesmen are caught being unethical, other Salesmen are not in a position to protect them from the consequences the way that those in the business of Justice can.  Clearly individuals who work in the criminal justice system have more power than most in that way

It is important to remember that we empower these people to "maintain" our society for us. We must understand the incredibly large number of often conflicting, expectations we have of them. 

They are only men and deserve the right not to be stereotyped. In the instances where power is abused however, those offending public servants should be prosecuted with, to be euphemistic about it, "extreme prejudice." Power is as much a gift as a responsibility, and if not checked at every instance power will beget more power until violent revolt becomes inevitable. Mistrust of public institutions caused by the actions of a few can be dangerous for everyone as we saw last year with the attacks on Police throughout the nation.

If any of the things I have mentioned come as a shock to you then I recommend you expand your view on this particular topic, by researching the abuses I listed above. Perhaps you have trouble imagining yourself being the victim of treatment, since your lifestyle does not expose you to such a world.  Perhaps you are incapable of compassion.  Should any of these be the case, I would ask you only to take a long moment and consider, if not yourself then your spouse or child at the mercy of the criminal justice system.  It is tough to imagine ourselves in danger, but far easier to imagine our loved ones. Can you feel the sweat on your palms as you envision your impotence to stop any abuses that might befall people you actually care about. How wise is it not to educate yourself to the many problems that plague our system? 

I don't advise you become an advocate for criminal justice reform, immediately. That is for you to decide, after thoughtful deliberation.  Do some research.  Find out if any of the things I have said are true. Check out alternative news sites, perhaps. 

The first step towards solving these problems is educating ourselves to the extent of the situation.  I invite you to explore the Marshall Project, a non-profit organization exploring criminal justice through journalism. Here's a recent piece that just won the Pulitzer Prize.  

Below, I have links for some websites whose work helps inform us all on the plight of Criminal Justice.

Our system is a reflection of our values. As long as we view criminality the way that we do, which is inherently disingenuously,  so will our system execute Justice the way it does.


THE CRIME REPORT - Your Complete Criminal Justice Resource

Picture Icon;  NECIR Webpage
New England Center for
 Investigative reporting
Picture Icon; Injustice Watch Website.
Injustice Watch
Picture JJIE webpage
Juvenile Justice IE
Picture Icon: Public Source Website
Public Source


American Bar Association ABA
American Bar Association

Medill Justice Project
Medill Justice Project