The State of the United States Criminal Justice System
“Criminal justice is the system of practices and institutions of governments directed at upholding social control, deterring and mitigating crime, or sanctioning those who violate laws with criminal penalties and rehabilitation efforts. Those accused of crime have some protections against abuse of investigatory and prosecution powers.”
“Here in the United States, the criminal justice policy has been guided by the 1967 President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, which issued a ground-breaking report “The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society”. This report made more than 200 recommendations as part of a comprehensive approach toward the prevention and fighting of crime. Some of those recommendations found their way into the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. The Commission advocated a “systems” approach to criminal justice, with improved coordination among law enforcement, courts, and correctional agencies. The President’s Commission defined the criminal justice system as the means for society to “enforce the standards of conduct necessary to protect individuals and the community.”
In recent weeks various news agencies have begun reporting on our Criminal Justice system here in the United States. I have to give credit where credit is due. Mainstream media has recently written some really good articles this past week with regards to our criminal justice system.
What each story brings up are injustices caused by the very system that is designed to protect us from crime. I can tell you first hand that our system is failing, it continues to fail because no one is actually managing it. Many laws that are designed to protect are in dire need of reform, some need to be done away with altogether, while others have simply gone too far. The simple truth is, within the judicial system, as it stands right now, it is designed to punish. The system stopped looking at people as if they are human beings somewhere along the line if it ever did. Those that run it and work in it have the sickening and deplorable attitude that they are better than everyone, they are manipulative, controlling and abusive.
A great many of those that work within our Judicial System, abuse the power they have been given and hand out justice in a very unfair, unjust way.
I worked in the justice system for quite some time once and I can tell you, when I left, I honestly felt that it was a complete joke of a system designed to take advantage of the sick, financially strapped or working poor and reward those who are financially better off. In fact, many of my police friends had lost faith in the system they were issuing citations for.
Looking at so many cases it truly boils down to money talks and walks away with a lesser punishment. Everyone else, well they pay, they end up more severely punished.
What typically happens is, the police will either issue a citation or arrest someone for some type of crime. Those with money and influence tend to get off a lot lighter than those without money and influence.
Police don’t give cases to the prosecution that are not winnable as the prosecution will reject them. Winnable does not mean the case will always go to trial, all a prosecutor looks at is whether they can get a conviction. a conviction is still a win if the defendant pleads to a lesser charge through a plea deal.
It’s important to understand that to any prosecutor all defendants are only a number to them, they are a notch in the belt. A win ensures more job security or raises and promotions. The more wins, the higher paid or more highly promoted that prosecutor will be. They don’t want you to be innocent point blank.
If the individual went to jail and can’t post bond, they may not be able to afford an attorney so the state provides one for them, more often than not, defendants who lack financially, will end up having his or her arms twisted into believing they have to take a plea or they will be imprisoned because they simply can not fight the charges against them. This happens more than most of you know.
Does that mean they committed a crime? Not necessarily and this is where the system begins to fail.
To almost every judge in the US sitting on a bench, defendants are nothing but the accused. Some judges truly care while the vast majority do not. They are not adequately trained to understand, spot or see someone who suffers from some form of mental disability or illness from the likes of a criminal. In fact, a judge’s job is to oversee trials and hand down sentences. He or she simply does not care to see the in between.
For instance, while I served in the criminal justice system I clerked for a judge who actually sentenced once, a young man who was developmentally disabled and truly did not understand his crime, this was not faked, the young man lived in a group home for the developmentally disabled. The young man shoved someone but didn’t understand why the police came, why he was in a courtroom, seeing a judge. Why he had been fined and then sentenced to anger management classes. The classes by the way are not designed to work with the developmentally disabled.
Another case I clerked for the same judge, sentenced an elderly gentleman to classes, community service and a fine for shoplifting. That man was around the final stages of Alzheimer’s, had no recollection of what he had done, he didn’t understand why he was being sentenced at all. That made me physically ill. I spent nights tossing and turning over it because it really got to me.
This little old man simply put a tube of unpaid for chapstick after picking it up and using it into his pocket. He didn’t realize what he was doing. His family even brought his paperwork from the doctor to court. That goddamn judge did not care and sentenced this man.
Does anyone believe that in either case, justice was served? Two individuals who had not one single clue as to why they were really in trouble. You know what the judge asked them? He only asked them if they knew right from wrong and explained to them what brought them to court as neither remembered the incident that brought them to court. This is how our entire judicial system works.
Another set of cases I love to tell people about, anyone who knows me personally knows about Loretta. I was her probation officer and I took a special interest in her because I felt that the system was holding her unfairly down. Trust me, I was spoken to several times by my boss over it too but I simply did not give a shit.
Loretta was uneducated, had something like 4 or 5 kids all underage who fell and fell hard. Her husband, her only source of income was either deported or put into prison, leaving her and their children to fend for themselves. I was never able to get a straight answer from anyone as to what exactly happened to her husband, I just knew that he was gone.
Trying to find work, get welfare and medicaid to support her family, she let her yard slide. Well code enforcement issued her not one, but several back to back citations. Rather than look upon her as a human being, they offered no help, the prosecutor was an ass hole, he at one point simply told us in the courts, as a joke that she was trash and deserved it. Code enforcement laughed at her and delighted in going out of the way just to catch her for the slightest infraction.
The judge didn’t care, he took absolutely no mercy upon her and sentenced her. Fines, community service you name it she got it. Well, she couldn’t pay her fines, was trying to find work so blew off community service and when she was picked up for a warrant, she was sentenced to jail.
I recall talking to the officer who arrested her. He was pissed about it. Not only did he have to arrest her for misdemeanor offences and fines, he felt going after people like Loretta was a waste of his time. You know what, I agreed with that and still do.
When she was released from jail a month or so later, she had nothing. Less than nothing as the welfare had been cut off while she was in jail. While her family stepped in and tried to help care for the kids they didn’t have enough to support them all. So, in desperation Loretta and her oldest were shoplifting and were caught doing it.
Well, as her probation officer I asked the arresting officer to get me a copy of the receipt from the store of items she had attempted to steal. Again, the arresting officer did not want to arrest her, knowing her hardship it was one hell of a bitter horse pill for him to swallow. Yes sometimes police don’t like having to arrest someone. In all reality, they treat people more humanely than the rest of the judicial system.
Seeing the list of items they had stolen took my breath away. It was all food and not the more expensive, it was off brand, cheap meat and baby food and formula. They were trying to steal what they needed at the moment to survive. It wasn’t even a week’s worth of food.
Well in court, the judge was harsh, I begged for him to go light on her pointing out the items she attempted to steal were only to survive but my words fell upon deaf ears. He looked right at her and lectured her, in fact he told her she should have gone to the food bank. That jerk didn’t even know the days or hours the food bank in town were open because on the date of her shoplifting, the food bank happened to be closed which I mentioned to him before her case.
Again she had a fine, some classes now and community service. After a year or so of going to jail for not paying her fines, more charges from code enforcement and not going to class, community service it became crystal clear to me that the system I worked for thrived in the ability to take advantage of the underprivileged. I was fed up!
I made a few calls while she was in jail again and arranged for her family to get her to someone who owed me a favor and someone I knew who could offer her a job as a cook. Not a glorious job but I decided to work with what we had. She had kids and I knew she could cook. She got out and got the job. I saw her entire world change in that moment. Now my boss at the time was pretty upset with me over it and again, I didn’t give a shit. I already had one foot out the door to head off to work for the marketing department at Coors.
This is an equally ugly side to how our system works. If you are weak or disadvantaged in anyway the system will take advantage of you.
Guilt or innocence is not really proven any more. The reality is juries go into it thinking you are guilty, the defense has to prove to a jury that the defendant is not guilty. That isn’t right as it’s supposed to be innocent until proven guilty.
I can’t help but believe a lot of the recent media coverage about our poorly run judicial system is due to things like the documentary “Making a Murderer,” and I am glad to see it. I can’t say for sure that I personally believe in Steven Avery’s innocence or guilt, in watching the documentary I felt he and his defense team were never given a fair shot at arguing the evidence. At the same time in some of his calls to his family, I heard a manipulative man speaking to his parents. Does that mean he killed someone? No and the fact is he was never truly able to argue the evidence so that reasonable doubt could come into play.
The documentary serves to let us all know that the system is designed in a way to punish, guilty or not. Reasonable doubt simply does not exist for many. You can have two defendants who have committed the same crime. One with money and one with very little money. The person that will truly pay for the crime and continue to pay because they won’t be able to pay for classes or fines is the person who doesn’t have the funds. They are the one who will not get the better plea bargain and they will made to believe they can’t win if the case goes to trial.
It is a form of prejudice and it’s not right. The current state of the American Judicial System is one that is rampant and out of control.
Our Judicial System does need reform in a terrible way. But protesting and rioting will not get us to that point. It is so wrong to punish those that are disabled or ill in anyway, not to mention that it serves no purpose.
Those that are financially disadvantaged deserve the same defense as those who are not and they deserve the same breaks as those who are not financially disadvantaged.
The reality is the Government cannot accomplish police reform in the cities that need it, let alone hold someone like Hillary Clinton accountable for her misdeeds. They go through the motions and that is pretty much it. Let’s face it, the Government does not like to police their own and could we really trust them to fix our severely broken judicial system or are we better off pulling from the private sector to accomplish that?
Cristal M Clark
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If you are snowed in and need some more reading here are some of the articles that I mentioned: