There Are Major Things Wrong With Our Criminal Justice System

justice weepsI was asked why the criminal justice system had not changed in any substantial way in 200 years. I answered that the problem with it is that all involved are government employees. I’m not one of those people who calls them hacks because many perform important services. But the government offers no incentive for people to do things differently. Change is perceived as something of a threat to the everyday usual which has made everyone comfortable.

Added to that is the pay check that comes in every agreed upon period whether you do your job or not and everyone in the same position gets the same pay. Good judges at the same level get the same pay as the bad judges; good probation officers get the same as the bad. The system is a great leveler.

As I young lawyer I clerked for a judge who told he how when he first started out he worked extra hard trying to get things done. After a while he said he felt like the sorcerer’s apprentice in Goethe’s poem watching the broom dump more and more work on his desk. He recognized whether he broke his back working or just put in a good day’s work it was all the same. As an individual he could make no difference. So when I met him he was doing enough to get along.

So while every other profession keeps up with the modern technology, the law limps along mired in the mud of the 19th Century.  As I’ve written the grand jury no longer meets the needs of today’s society nor do the manner in which crimes are handled. There are many too many crimes; we need another way to handle minor matters that are considered crimes. I’m reminded of that when I recall how my niece had two cops show up at her house with a warrant for her arrest because she didn’t answer a speeding citation. Or, just recently when we saw the NY city cops were wrestling the guy to the ground over him allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes and killing him.

There are protests over the latter incident but the trouble with the protestors is they have no idea what they want. They know they don’t like what is going on but they can’t put their fingers on what it is they want changed. Their leaders are pathetic being more interested in attracting attention than setting out solutions. If they really wanted something different they would have concrete proposals but I’ve yet to hear anything from them.

What we need is a systematic change in the way we deal with crime. The U.S. has according to this chart the highest number of people in prison per 100,000 than any other country in the world by far except for one country. Our total is 707, the Seychelles which has a population of 90,000 has 868. That in itself should shout out to us that there is something wrong in our system especially since most other first world nations have around the number of 100.

Certainly we can’t say that the crime rate in this country is seven times worse than in other countries with our democratic values so what are we doing that is wrong. Has anyone tried to address this? Obviously not, we just go on as if over 200 years have not passed.

But here’s something that should shock you. “In 2010, the incarceration rate for white men under local, state and federal jurisdiction was 678 inmates per 100,000 white U.S. residents; for black men, it was 4,347. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, black men were more than six times as likely as white men to be incarcerated in 2010.” To put it another way, using the black incarceration rate it would be more than 400 times the rate of most European nations. And you wonder why the blacks think they are being treated differently in the U.S. criminal system.

There are major things wrong. The first thing which is obvious is no once cares or else things would have been done differently before this. But it is time that we must start caring. The change won’t come from inside the comfortable system run by government employees. It’ll have to come from outside. But those on the outside must come up and demand specific solutions – general complaints won’t change anything.

 

 

7 thoughts on “There Are Major Things Wrong With Our Criminal Justice System

  1. Incarceration rate by race is meaningless without some measure of the rate of commission of each crime broken down by race. If a particular demographic segment is incarcerated six times more for a particular crime than another segment but the commission of a particular crime rate is twelve times more than the other segments then you could properly say that the ratio of incarceration to commission is half of the other segments. Then you could also break down each segment by such factors as income and education level. It would be reasonable to conclude that well educated people of sufficient income level regardless of race can afford better legal representation leading to a lower incarceration rate for that crime. It would be reasonable to conclude that private attorneys paid for by defendants provide better outcomes for the defendants than public defender attorneys supplied by and paid by the government, as the public defenders have the same motivation that you noted in the judge for whom you clerked. Private attorneys with records of successful outcomes attract more clients willing to pay for their legal services.

    This type of analysis has a peculiar quirk. You can only be considered as committing a crime if you are convicted of committing that crime. Even when convicted, are you incarcerated or fined or placed under probation supervision? Where is that data?

    1. Ed:

      Lots of sub sections like you point out may impact the data; however, the gross numbers in themselves should be startling to anyone reviewing them. Obviously you have to be convicted to be incarcerated and the issue we are discussing only relates to incarceration. I agree that the rate of commission is important as are the consequences for instance whether there is a fine or promotion. If the blacks are incarcerated at such a high rate because whites for the same crime get probation or a fine; or if the blacks are getting incompetent lawyers while whites have the best ones, those two situations also suggest something is wrong. As usual, appreciate your feedback.

    2. Ed:

      After I got a comment from Henry to the same effect as yours I wrote back to him as follows: “Henry,
      Like Ed you make an excellent point. Thanks for the chart.
      I did a quick analysis and will make some very general conclusions. Whites make up 77% of the population here and blacks 17% or there are 4.5 more whites than blacks.
      I looked at the chart you provided. I made two groups. Group 1 consisted of the top three categories (murders, forcible rapes and robberies) and then Group 2 the top five categories (murder, rape robberies, aggravated assault and burglary). In the former group whites committed about 48,000 and blacks 53,000; in the latter group whites committed 363,000 and blacks 222,000.
      Using the 4.5 figure in Group 1 the black figure you’d expect would be 10,500 rather than 53,000; and with Group 2 you’d expect it to be 80,500 rather than the 222,000.
      You and Ed point out I am comparing apples with oranges just using the incarceration rate without reference to the crime rate. Using the crime rate figures in Group 1 the blacks commit crimes at about 5 times the rate of whites and in Group 2 about 3 times the rate. Putting those figures next to the incarceration rates the differences in incarceration between the races is not so shockingly different as I made it to be.
      But that brings up another issue that we are faced with which is why is the black crime rate so different than the white crime rate. Is it all a matter of economics or is it education or the excess rates of single mom homes? Whatever it is we have to address it because having such differences between people occupying the same house seems to tell of troublesome times ahead.”

    1. Henry,
      Like Ed you make an excellent point. Thanks for the chart.
      I did a quick analysis and will make some very general conclusions. Whites make up 77% of the population here and blacks 17% or there are 4.5 more whites than blacks.
      I looked at the chart you provided. I made two groups. Group 1 consisted of the top three categories (murders, forcible rapes and robberies) and then Group 2 the top five categories (murder, rape robberies, aggravated assault and burglary). In the former group whites committed about 48,000 and blacks 53,000; in the latter group whites committed 363,000 and blacks 222,000.
      Using the 4.5 figure in Group 1 the black figure you’d expect would be 10,500 rather than 53,000; and with Group 2 you’d expect it to be 80,500 rather than the 222,000.
      You and Ed point out I am comparing apples with oranges just using the incarceration rate without reference to the crime rate. Using the crime rate figures in Group 1 the blacks commit crimes at about 5 times the rate of whites and in Group 2 about 3 times the rate. Putting those figures next to the incarceration rates the differences in incarceration between the races is not so shockingly different as I made it to be.
      But that brings up another issue that we are faced with which is why is the black crime rate so different than the white crime rate. Is it all a matter of economics or is it education or the excess rates of single mom homes? Whatever it is we have to address it because having such differences between people occupying the same house seems to tell of troublesome times ahead.

        1. Henry:

          I read through that article and the report prepared by Moynihan about which you wrote. As you note, that was written 50 years ago and pretty much pointed out the great disparity between blacks and whites in America then, which is something that still exists today. Moynihan apparently attributes this to the after effects of slavery which developed a culture in the black community that makes it forever enslaved by it history; one generation after the other is condemned in a Ground Hog day type trap. Moynihan called out for going the extra mile to assist the blacks in escaping from this endless cycle but becasue of other things happening at that time nothing was ever done. It is difficult for many to accept that slavery’s pernicious effect still continues; the common answer in the white community is that it is time that the blacks get over it and accept the responsibility for their own problems and stop pointing the finger at whitey. There is less mood in the country to accept Moynihan’s proposals today than back 50 years ago. It all points to an increasingly separation between the two races unless something is done which is not in the interest of our country. It was hoped the Obama presidency would have brought about a greater understanding but it seems none of the underlying conditions have changed and where once there was hope among the blacks that things would be different the hope is vanishing. I just view the situation with dismay knowing there is no will to change anything. Perhaps you saw it coming long ago and decided to settle in a new locale. Thanks for keeping me on the straight and narrow.

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