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Plain and Simples for March 21, 2013
SoVaNow.com / March 19, 2013I have done several ride-alongs with the police as part of my duties as a police chaplain. I have to admit that the average criminal is not all that impressive. We are trained to treat everyone with whom we come into contact with extreme courtesy. Still, there are times when your patience is tried.
I say this to remind the reader that I am not totally naïve when it comes to the problem of crime and criminals in our society today. I have nothing but admiration for those individuals who put their lives on the line daily to protect us and to deal with crime under the most trying circumstances.
At the same time, I want the justice system to play fair. Watching it from close up and watching it as one who has worked in it through the juvenile justice system, I have to say that the justice system is broken, much like the health system. We need to fix it and it will not be fixed by simply putting more people in jail.
The United States currently incarcerates 715 people per 100,000 people. Russia is next with 514. By contrast, such countries as Spain 144, Germany 96, and France 95, show how many countries in the rest of the Western world handle incarceration. If we were stopping crime with our actions, I might give a shout out to our tactics but I do not think that is happening.
Part of the problem is that there is still a tremendous disconnect in how poor and rich defendants are given access to the justice system. Karen Houppert, in her book, “Chasing Gideon: The Elusive Quest for Poor People’s Justice,” explains that the landmark decision that required that all defendants in the United States be granted access to legal counsel has not yet become a reality fifty years after it was handed down.
In one instance, a novice lawyer with no experience in criminal law and who had never seen a trial before was hired as a public defender on Thursday and handed a case that began on Monday. Greg Bright spent 27 years in prison on a murder charge based on the sole testimony of a mentally ill heroin addict with a history of hallucinations who could not have physically seen what she claimed to have seen.
It becomes all too easy to pontificate about how easy prisoners have it with their TVs and access to gyms and books. We want them to suffer for what they did. But suppose they never did it? Suppose their only crime is being poor and unable to obtain a competent lawyer and then to negotiate a Byzantine justice system? When we shout for law and order, if we have an ounce of Christianity in our soul, let us hope there is some justice that filters through it.
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