Up until the time that I had to deal with my own criminal defense, I never gave much thought to whether I believed the criminal justice system to be fair or not. Most people, I suspect, would agree to that. Unless you have someone that you know who has gone through the justice system, or have been through it yourself, there really is nothing to compare it to.I want to be very clear though and share that people should be punished for particular crimes against society. Certainly there needs to be consequences for people’s actions when they break the law. Unfortunately, in my opinion, many of the sentences that are handed out are extreme and in some cases, unwarranted.
Granted, my personal experience has only been in Arizona, but there are a few reasons as to why I feel this way;
- When it comes to assigning punishments, sentencing guidelines are inconsistent, and frequently unfair.
- Sentencing practices between judges vary wildly
- Inequitable legal defense is provided based upon the offender’s financial means
- Punishment given for nonviolent and juvenile crimes is more harsh than appropriate
- Mandatory minimum sentences are routinely given to drug offenders rather than ordering treatment or rehabilitation
- Correctional Systems have become a for-profit business and the court system absolutely plays a role in fueling that economy
ClassificationOffenders are often classified inappropriately. They are housed together based upon crimes committed. Unfortunately, offenders are individuals and they should be seen as such because every case, every offender, is unique and different. A person who has taken a life through a vehicular accident, without malice, has no business being housed with an inmate convicted of capital murder, and yet they are.
There needs to be a comprehensive screening process with interviews set in motion at the offender’s initial intake. Often times, there are psychological issues to take into consideration. The offender may not warrant placement in a pysch ward, but living within a general population in a state prison might not be a suitable location.
Alternative PunishmentThere has been a decided shift away from utilizing alternative disciplinary measures. Many offenders are either first time offenders or have committed crimes which may not warrant incarceration. Unfortunately, alternatives punishments to prison are not considered. These underutilized mechanisms are:
- Extended home arrests for nonviolent, non repetitive offenders who have stable homes and families
- GPS ankle monitoring systems
- Increased work-furlough programs
- Reimplementation of military enlistment deferment
- Assigned FEMA work programs
Antisocialism – creating a culture of hate
Offenders learn unacceptable social behavior traits in prison. Correctional facilities propagate this behavior by not correcting it as it develops. Inmates learn to segregate themselves by race, religion, sexual orientation and by gang affiliation. They are taught to hate. These traits become deeply planted and are carried back into society. This dynamic absolutely hinders their ability to be successful in the real world.
RehabilitationThe system has lost sight of its mission to rehabilitate offenders while they are incarcerated. There is instead, intense focus placed upon penalization. In doing that, they create and promote a negative, violent environment that induces violent behavior in human beings.
Upon release, most offenders are ill prepared to reenter society. They are required to report to a parole officer within 24 hours. Consider that the majority of offenders have no money or means of transportation. But they must find housing and be employed within 30 days of their release or they are in violation and are sent back to prison. These requirements would be challenging to any citizen, but in this economy – they are completely unrealistic. It is difficult enough for a college graduate to find a job. Imagine how challenging it would be for a convicted felon.The average offender has no stable support system when they are released; no friends, no family who are waiting and willing to assist. That in mind, offenders are rarely able to succeed. There is a direct correlation as to why the recidivism rate is now in the 80 percentile.
I am hoping that this entry does not come across as though I am searching for empathy in any way. I am not. I have accepted things as they are because I have had to in order to be able to move forward in this environment. Many things in life are unfair. In my case, I committed a crime. Despite the simple fact that I had no intention or desire to cause an accident which would take the lives of others, I am, by society’s standards, a murderer. It is because of this, I deserve to be in prison.
This is my life.