Two stories have really caught my attention lately. I think they are telling about the state of affairs of our criminal justice system.
First, a head public defender took the clever step of appointing his state governor to defend and criminal case as protest for the governor’s underfunding of the public defender’s office. As the public defender pointed out, his office simply was under-funded to actually provide the services it needed to comply with a defendants’ Constitutional Right to a competent attorney.
The second story is related to jails violating inmate’s Constitutional rights again cruel and unusual punishment due to the lack of air-conditioning within the jails, which presents inmates with serious risk of health problems.
Having practiced criminal law for close to a decade, I have seen on a regular basis the disparities imposed by our criminal justice system based primarily on wealth and race. It’s also concerning how jails have now become de facto hospitals for the mentally ill and drug addicted. And, yes, it is true that the United Stated, who touts itself as the Land of the Free, maintains one of the highest incarceration rates in the developed world.
Look, I love America. I believe in what it stands for, and I think our future is bright. But I also believe that we cannot maintain as a society on this path of incarcerating individuals, branding them criminals, and not understanding the price that comes with that.
- Actual dollar prices. It costs money to run jails. And while I’m sure the private jail industry is making a their fair share, the tax payers are paying the bill. And simply saying “well, we don’t need to pay for attorneys and air conditioning” is not the answer. While you may think that inmates currently incarcerated “deserve” that kind of treatment, you need to realize that you, your family member, or friend can be subject to prosecution. Put yourself in the shoes of the average inmate (who I guarantee is more like you than you think) and ask yourself is our Constitution truly working?
- At some point, they will get out. Did you know that in Virginia, if you convicted of stealing an item worth $201, you are a felon – for life. And, even if it happened when you’re 18 years old, you can’t get that charged expunged at 80 years old. Think about the implications that conviction would have on your record if you made the silly mistake of stealing an item while you were in college, and happened to get caught.
- Who likes being a hypocrite? In the long-run, the path that our criminal justice system is on will hurt us. Our foreign policy is based upon democratic norms, freedom of expression and liberty, as well as frankly being “good”. To have the blight of our criminal justice system hanging over our heads is a disgrace. We need to realize that prosecution comes with a price all the same.
Of course, there are serious felons. But much of the “criminal” population isn’t as terrible as you think.
This has serious implications on your life. If this same population is not employable due to a felony, it will have an impact our economy, both large scale and locally. Heck, that same person can’t buy your product because their income potential is down the tube.