Few systems designed by human beings can be as serious as one set up to take the very lives of people, their liberty, and their property. Our country’s foundational laws and philosophies are based upon the recognition of abusive government. Our most cherished rights and laws restrict government’s ability to take life, liberty, and property. “Criminal Justice” cannot be “Criminal Injustice”.
The Criminal Justice Industrial Complex
We have systematized criminal law into massive public and private industries unconcerned with human dignity, much less following law.
We employ many thousands of people in law enforcement to lose a war against drugs and ruin millions of lives. We keep poor people in jail and prison, solely because of their inability to pay. We prosecute at the drop of a hat without investigating.
Our grand juries indict with little to no evidence, rather than protecting against abusive prosecution of weak cases at the behest of prosecutors who charge and overcharge in hopes of gaining leverage for “plea bargains”.
Our government “experts” use dubious and blatantly false claims of scientific validity, and the government builds its prosecution systems around their falsities. Crime lab scandals are commonplace, yet problems are still denied and minimized by every part of the criminal justice system.
Our trial judges have routinely admitted plainly false evidence masquerading as “science” against criminal defendants. Our trial judges routinely rule in favor of police misconduct and violations of people’s rights. Our appellate judges, including the Supreme Court of the United States, pay lip service to our most cherished protections while upholding egregious overreach by government actors. Convictions are allowed to stand, even in the face of probable innocence. “Law and Order” and “safety” and the sanctity of convictions not being disturbed have become the “rights” which matter most to courts.
Legislatures resist compensating innocent people who are wrongly convicted. The first response to almost any of society’s ills is to proscribe conduct and create more ways to commit a crime.
Our prisons are megabusinesses. We incarcerate more people than any other country on Earth. America… Land of the Free… The shining beacon to the world… The United States of America… That country, our country, has less than 5% of the planet’s population, yet more than 20% of its prisoners, and it has the world’s largest percentage of incarceration. Incarceration rates have increased, even as crime rates have dropped. America’s addiction to holding people in cells is at epidemic levels unseen in any civilized country. Treatment of prisoners here is often far less humane than other Western civilizations.
Many of our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, and sons and daughters, are languishing in prison for crimes they did not commit. Even when actual innocence is obvious, resistance continues. Conviction and punishment are held more precious than the rights of the people who are wrongfully convicted. A jury verdict, even when based on incomplete, false, or misleading evidence, is considered sacrosanct by most in our criminal justice system.
Our prosecutors and judges have fought for years to keep innocent people in prison, even after the truth of innocence became clear. To them, technical rules are so precious they trump the abomination of innocent people being in prison. To them, acknowledging mistakes or imperfection is unconscionable, but helping killers roam free while innocent people do the time for their crimes is worth impassioned support.
To them, the opinions of a jury outweigh actual truth. To them, finality of convictions is more important than getting the right person or the right answer. To them, the thought of a guilty person going free is more horrifying than an innocent person being put to death or losing a lifetime of freedom. Such an attitude is wrong on every level and not worthy of our ideals in any way.
IT’S FIXABLE, BUT NOT EASILY SO
We cannot expect perfection from our system. We are human. We make mistakes. Our institutions are as imperfect as the people who run them. To believe otherwise is foolish and unrealistic, as well as demonstrably wrong.
We have no excuse. We are confronted on a daily basis by the deluge of people being rescued from wrongful convictions. Every one of those exonerated people are victims of our flawed criminal “justice” system and the attitudes of the people who run it.
Every one who has been freed from wrongful convictions depended upon many years of work by others. Innocence projects are just at the beginning their work.
Our criminal justice system has been exposed for what it is, a festering wound to liberty and justice. We must end long-held attitudes and practices because they are incompatible with justice and liberty. We must embrace expanded reform and become more compassionate.