The American Criminal Justice system is a deplorable and embarrassing continuation of medieval crime-deterrent philosophy that has never worked particularly well, and the more our world grows and thrives in so very many other ways, the more we are continually reminded of our own abysmal failure to regulate and promote a peaceful society through our judiciary system.
(There is also a clear ethnic disparity going on, however that is for another blog.)
First of all, the name alone is setting us up for failure:
“Criminal” is a euphemism for “villain.”
When someone is caught doing something wrong, we label them a villain. American villains will bear this mark forever, despite the false promise of “Corrections” (which we’ll get into a bit further down), and it shall be a shadow over them for the rest of their days. If it happened to be a Federal crime, then that person also can’t ever vote again, because as a people, we don’t believe in redemption.
Villains are not the same as regular people, and for that reason we are at ease with the idea that whatever foul thing happens to them is just fine. There is no real sense of proportion of “punishment” accorded to any given “crime,” at least not one that isn’t completely arbitrary. If a villain is apprehended, then they probably deserve to be mistreated during the arrest. And if their ride to jail is bumpy, they probably deserved that too. And if they’re subjected to inhuman abuses and horrors once they get to jail, the more the merrier! And at the end of a years-long sentence, how has all that punishment compounded? Who cares! They’re just villains, right?
The “Justice” part is also fraught.
For “justice” sure sounds nice to hear, but what it means in this case is “revenge.”
Our form of Criminal Justice means “if you commit a crime, you’ll go to jail.” That’s not justice. In fact, I would call that the exact opposite of justice. Actual justice would sound more like this: “Nobody wrongs anybody, and everyone lives in a peaceful accord.” THAT’S fucking justice, and that should be the ultimate goal.
The argument I tend to hear in response to this is the ol’: “Well, imagine if someone did [insert heinous act here] to you or someone you love. What would you want then?” Well, probably vengeance like anybody else. But that’s precisely why we have a government-instituted judicial system in the first place: because history has already shown us quite plainly that vigilante justice is very rarely fair or just in any respect. Furthering that truth, we should see that a victim’s initial reaction to a crime perpetrated upon them might well be the last thing we should look to for guidance as to what to do afterward. What should we look to instead? Well, I’m glad you asked….
But to answer that, I have one more issue with nomenclature to address: “Corrections.” Jails and prisons are run by departments of “Corrections,” because it is “correct” to punish wrongdoers, and, once appropriately punished for their crimes, wrongdoers are thereby “corrected.”
Except no, none of that makes any sense at all.
First, a thought on the correctness of correction in the first place:
Jesus Christ and I agree on at least two things; one of them is plenty of wine at parties, but the other is that scorn, wrath, and vengeance all work counter to the purpose of the existence of a peaceful society.
His example was if someone hits you, don’t hit them back, but invite them to hit you again. If someone wants to steal your shirt, don’t fight them, just give it to them. Of course this is difficult in practice – it’s nearly impossible for most people! – but it always was and continues to be the right thing to do.
And it’s not just right because Jesus said it. It’s right because we can prove that it’s right. (Unlike our Criminal Justice system, which is wrong and we can prove that it’s wrong.) If for some reason you require proof of this, the best way to learn about it is to practice it yourself.
Aside: I find it absolutely stunning that so many think the United States to be a “Christian Nation,” and yet this very basic tenet of Christianity is so willingly tossed out in favor of good ol’ fashioned revenge, mankind’s oldest pastime – now handily administered by the State just like all our other important socialist utilities.
And now for the notion that corrections “correct” anybody at all:
As I mentioned above, villains are not “corrected,” they are punished. That is a fundamental difference, and it is the root of our problem.
There is certainly nothing at all corrective about locking a person away for years at a time in an abusive environment.
In fact, I would call that destructive – serving the exact opposite purpose of rehabilitation. Just take a look at these harrowing national recidivism rate numbers if you don’t believe me.
If our present system of laws-and-punishments were any good at dissuading people from wrongdoing, they why do we still have crime? Or, perhaps more fairly-worded: who are we kidding by calling it “Corrections?”
Imagine what it must be like to be a rational adult, but to make the conscious choice to break a law. I know, you and I have never done such a thing, but take a moment to really think about it. It’s a thought experiment: how could a fully-realized person (legal definition: survived on this Earth for 18 years) ever find themselves in a situation where the choice they made is one which is contrary to our popular laws? Unfathomable, isn’t it?!
That’s because it is!
Rational people do not generally break the law, for, by definition, their faculty of reason can calculate for them the risks associated, and help them come to the best outcome. It’s not been a secret for a long time that people who find themselves chronically incarcerated are suffering from mental illnesses. (And once you’re inside, good luck getting any treatment!) Yet our entire judicial, legal, and penal systems are not designed to deal with the mentally plagued, but rather operate under the almost-completely-incorrect assumption that every poor soul who chances to enter into their cursed domains is a self-possessing, responsible citizen of the world who simply made a conscious choice to join the Dark Side.
Don’t you think it would take an extraordinary situation for a rational adult to make the choice to break the law? Of course it would! Which is why
every such occasion warrants and deserves the attention of our judicial system to fully understand each individual situation, and to help the person in question (and all other people) to be able to avoid finding themselves in that particular arrangement of circumstances ever again.
The notion that “if we don’t want Crime X to occur, then we’ll just conjure up Punishment Y, and anybody we catch committing X, we’ll give them Y” might help a fringe proportion of the population to not commit crimes, but it does nothing for the vast majority of people who were never going to commit X in the first place, and, furthermore, it does a disservice to all those who were going to commit it regardless of consequence. We’ll just find ourselves constantly doling out Punishment Y for all time, as we have been now for literally thousands of years.
Instead, wouldn’t it be better if we could find all the ways in which people are motivated to commit Crime X, and create nonviolent solutions to prevent them from ever occurring? Isn’t that clearly superior in every way? Isn’t that something worthy of pursuit for the self-described “greatest nation on Earth?”
And none of these thoughts are new; one example is Norway, which has made huge progress on this front, and from whom we stand to learn a great deal, if only we would pay attention.
Now listen: I’m sure there exist people in this world who we cannot help, who are hopelessly violent and are entirely unable to fit within the general scheme of human culture no matter what we do. But for those people, I do believe the limitation lies not with them, but rather with us. If there is a failure, it is ours to understand the problem; not theirs for existing as they do. And, since they’re still people, we owe it to them (and to all future peoples) to do our damnedest to try and figure out a way to help them. Maybe we won’t accomplish that in their lifetime, or in ours. But not to try is to become villains ourselves.
We have to change our entire philosophy around from one that seeks out villainy and punishes it, to one that seeks out answers to people’s problems and finds a way to bring the two together.
That is how Criminal Justice should be administered. That is how to combat future crime in any real and meaningful way. That is how you help people who truly need help. And all of this should be the goal of any society with the compunction to call itself even halfway civilized.