WE MUST COMMIT TO PAY FOR CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

chrispoulos

^ it costs money to assure equal justice to all : from the Sentencing Project article cited below : Chris Poulos with Glenn Martin of Just Leadership, USA

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Well-intentioned activists talk these days about the need for criminal justice reform. Some are even working on specific proposals, legislation, objectives. I approve it all; but we cannot kid ourselves : criminal justice reform will; cost money. A lot of money. I doubt we as a society are ready to hear it, much less to commit to it; nonetheless, here I go:

1.A story that I found on my facebook wall this morning makes painfully clear that criminal justice is all about the money. Read how Chris Poulos, who could afford a private lawyer won a decidedly much better outcome than if he had had t9 use bar-appointed counsel : http://www.sentencingproject.org/stories/christopher-poulos

Had Poulos stuck with bar-appointed counsel, he would have sunk into prison life — an eight year sentence as opposed to three — and probably that would have been it. Whereas today he is about to graduate from law school and take his place as a n attorney. Which is the sort of outcome we should want for drug offenders (and others not heinous) who fall afoul of criminal justice. But who will pay for bar-appointed counsel, sufficiently that he or she devotes serious effort to cases they take on ? Today, in MA at least, bar-appointed lawyers are pay little and have to wait for almost a year — sometimes longer — to receive even that little.

The 14th Amendment to our Constitution guarantees equal protection of the laws to all residents of this nation; but Constitutional guarantees are only as good as the credit given them by the guarantors : we the citizens who live by that Constitution. Plenty of people, on the political right especially, talk about the Constitution a lot, but usually such talk is of rights and limitation : almost none of the obligations that the Constitution imposes on us who live by it. We must begin to have that talk.

Criminal justice reform will cost a ton of money. If you read my list of basic and essential reforms, as itemized next, you’ll figure that out petty quickly :

1.The Constitution guarantees counsel to all accused, of offenses that impose imprisonment punishments. This guarantee doesn’t mean much if said counsel is ineffective, or so poorly paid that he or she can’t devote the necessary time to a case, or whose appointed case load is so heavy that the same inadequacy results. Courts are already releasing accused because they can’t get effective or timely counsel. Is that the result that we want ? I doubt it. We need to fund the counsel guarantee we have made, in writing, in the Constitution, because the obligation was one we freely took on and for very good reason. Doing so might add as much as $ 35 million per year to our State budget.

2.Imprisonment is punishment enough. No prison should be administered by guards and wardens who rule by terror. Nor should there ever be privately-run, for profit prisons. Granted that it’s default easy for prison administrators to rule by violence and terror. They re dealing with often violent men maddened by prison confinements to an unbearable degree, men who do horrifying things to one another in the blink of an eye. Still, there is no justification for prison rule to tolerate intentional cruelty, denial of medical services, solitary confinements, bribes, extortion, informants, and beatings. Diligence on duty — interactions that can be trusted — should be prison administration’s first priority; next comes proper classification of inmates, and small cell blocks, so that imprisoned people have less opportunity, or occasion, to harm, one another.

3.Prisoners often go out on work details. Other are hired for jobs within the prison. Can somebody tell me by what legal theory they are not entitled to the benefits of minimum wage laws ?

4.No municipality should ever be allowed to fund its budget by way of traffic fines, bail bonds, and other costs imposed upon those it treats as offenders. Civil rights prosecutions of officials who use such shakedowns must be vigorous and ongoing, so that a heinous practice, the very opposite of “equal protection,” and deeply embedded in our nation’s ways of screwing poor people,. can be driven out.

5.In Germany, so I have read, the principle governing prison administration is that if the prisoner doesn’t make it, back into society, it is the administration’s fault, not the prisoner’s. Why can’t that principle govern our prisons here in America ?

6.Why do we keep in prison people who are elderly and often in need of 24 hour care (which many do not get) ? The cost of keeping 70 to 95 year old prisoners is enormous. Can’t that money be better used to pay Constitutionally guaranteed counsel ? Better trained and schooled prison guards ? In-prison education for inmates ? Accepting minimum wage laws for prisoner work ? Paying bail bondsmen, so that the person being bailed — who likely hasn’t the money — doesn’t have to pay ? (All too often, the person being bailed has to ask his family, if he has one ready, or a friend, to use the week’s food money, or the electric bill, to pay the bondsman’s fee.)

Too much of our criminal justice action arises from revenge, from anger. I understand the emotions of both; but anger does not make whole the injured victim, nor does revenge do any good except, maybe, to the soul of the avenger — and that I doubt strongly. This is why forgiveness is a basic principle of our great religions : the crime must be expunged from one’s heart, and by the community at large, rather than being the starting point for payback. Forgiveness does not mean no culpability. But it do0es mean that the society will not ingest the crime into its future duties.

I doubt that the above principle will ever be fully embraced by the good versus evil gunfight culture whose kept oaths hold us in thrall.

Life is about the future. If it is about oaths, may they be oaths to do better, not to make a right out of two wrongs.

Have we the courage to live up to the Constitutional commitments we have made in this regard ? I hope that pretty soon we will find out.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

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