What I learned while serving in public office is that no system is more unjust than the criminal justice system. One of the most neglected classes of people on the planet aren’t those living impoverished lives in third world countries, but men coming out of prison after having completed their jail sentences. Every day, they are released on to main street, after years of incarceration, with only a few dollars in their pockets and little hope of a helping hand. Apparently, the ordinary citizen believes that, magically, these people will reintegrate into society and do no more harm.
In reality, returning ex-offenders among the public without a support system is like putting wolves among the sheep. These men will re-offend and the public will thirst for vengeance. Any politician foolish enough to provide help for these offenders will be labeled soft on crime and ostracized by good, honest citizens. Society, it seems, prefers to spend obscene sums of money to catch criminals and to house and feed them, rather than invest in programs to prevent crimes.
In her new book, Chasing Gideon: The Elusive Quest for Poor People’s Justice, Karen Houppert looks at the other end of the spectrum: how individuals get into the criminal justice system in the first place. That, too, provides another harrowing picture. As a society, we absolve our guilt about convicting an honest man by providing a lawyer to the accused if he cannot afford one. Of course, that promise is little more than lip service. As Houppert points out, the average public defender carries a caseload of between 400 to 600 cases a year. The numbers are so horrific that sometimes the lawyer and his client meet for the first time in the courtroom. Justice cannot prevail when there is, essentially, no defense. One man, according to the author, spent 27 years in prison convicted solely on the testimony of a mentally ill heroin addict with a history of hallucinations. Unfortunately, the attorney for the accused didn’t know or failed to be to mention this fact to the jury. (“News”, by Leonard Pitts , Jr. The Week, March 29, 2013, pg. 12.)
The justice system in the United States is in shambles. It needs champions like those who served the Feminist and Civil Rights movements. Unfortunately, those in need of such champions are the least among us, the most unsympathetic and the most feared. I have no idea from where these champion will emerge, but I do know it won’t be from among the politicians.
(Courtesy of www.nationalarchives.gov.uk)