Sunday, June 14, 2009

Will There Be Change in the US Criminal Justice System

The US Senate, Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing this past week (June 11th) titled, "Exploring the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009." (see here).  Panel Two included Chief William Bratton - LA Police Dept., Pat Nolan - VP Prison Fellowship, Professor Charles Ogletree - Harvard, and Brian Walsh of the Heritage Foundation.  The panel discussed issues related to massive incarceration, including the incarceration of the mentally ill. Chief William Bratton noted how  the "American system of justice is overworked."  Professor Charles Ogletree said that we need to retire the phrase "a war on crime" and replace it with a phrase "be smart on crime." Brian Walsh emphasized that crime reform should not be driven by partisan politics and he also stressed the importance of examining overcriminalization issues. Pat Nolan gave some concrete examples of how to reform incarceration practices to save money and achieve better results.

Listening to this hearing, sent the important message that we need to stop thinking just retribution, and thinking wisely about how to reduce recidivism.  It was particularly good to see that some were mentioning the importance of distinguishing crimes and criminals. With the increased white collar sentences, it is hoped that if a President's Commission is established it will look closely at how best to treat white collar and corporate offenders.


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I also hope they reform the system from top to bottom. California's prison medical has been under federal receivership since 2005 because of the serious overcrowding that has lead to hundreds of medically preventable deaths in our prisons. Unfortunately rather than reforming sentencing laws they simply want to build more prisons under the guise of medical beds and re-entry centers costing BILLIONS TO BUILD. But we know that they will just end up being more prisons and more taxpayer money hijacked by the justice system and taxpayers lose again. We already spend 10 Billion of our general fund and it will certainly climb several billion more as all these new prisons must be staffed. The prisoners don't benefit, the UNIONS and those who make their living off the justice system do. Our legislators are all a bunch of scared rabbits that refuse to reform sentencing because the UNIONS will mount smear campaigns against them for being "soft on crime". We are handing out life sentences in this state like we are ordering lunch, destroying families and lives. 3 strikes, Jessica's law, Prop 9 are disastrous, the unintended consequences of these laws is one big reason our prisons are filled to bursting. With every right person they put away, they scoop up dozens more that the law was not intended for. Even though the public knows that innocents are being scooped up, they don't give a damn. We have become a sad, sad society. We turn our backs on others easily. These laws have filled our prisons with people whom many should never have been put there. Counties are largely responsible for the recidivism rates we have. They send low level criminals into high security prisons where they are literally turned into hardened criminals. People think it's hard to get sent to prison. That is a myth they like to sell the public. Once the system gets hold of people they don't want to let go. They are considered job security and the system goes to great lengths to keep them. They make sure they fail parole. They do nothing to help these people back into society. It is a sickening trend happening in this country where people are being used job security. I hope that the Blue Ribbon Commission led by Senator James Webb, whom I have great respect for, does more than talk. We have had dozens of reports done by the best professionals in the business, complete with roadmaps included to reform and overhaul the system here. NOTHING CHANGES. All they do is talk about it and the report is put on the shelf in their "things to do someday" file. Talk is cheap, action takes work. The work is what they don't want to do. Willing Legislators are fought every step of the way by the law enforcement community that does whatever it takes to keep their jobs. They continually fearmonger the ignorant public and the media never hears the truth or even tries to find it. This is why nothing will change unless it is forced. THIS BUDGET CRISIS IS WHY IT WILL CHANGE, NOT BECAUSE IT'S THE RIGHT THING TO DO.

Posted by: Morris1 | Jun 14, 2009 2:31:18 PM

Prosecutorial abuses of RICO, CSA and draconian sentencing guidelines are filling prisons with non-violent first-offenders and many wrongly accused and innocent white-collar citizens as well.

I'll get excited about the commission's work when they address those issues, but I'm not holding my breath.

Posted by: John K | Jun 15, 2009 9:11:05 AM

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