Saturday, April 11, 2009

Its Time To Fix Our Criminal Justice System

When it comes to issues plaguing Black and low-income communities, a White senator from the South is the last person we'd expect to go out on a limb and sound the alarm. Senator Jim Webb from Virginia just did exactly that when he boldly called out the over-imprisonment of Black folks and the serious problems with our prison system. Most importantly, he's demanding big changes.[1]

Now it's up to us to seize the moment and create the pressure necessary to achieve true reform.

I've joined in publicly thanking Senator Webb. Our praise will show other politicians that when they take risks and step out on critical issues like prison reform, we will have their backs. It will also show that everyday people stand with Webb and are serious about this issue. Can you join me? It only takes a moment. And then please ask your friends and family to do the same:

In recent years, politicians have lacked the courage to create meaningful prison reform. They've been paralyzed by the fear of being branded as "soft on crime." They've been held hostage by prison guard unions and industry lobbies. And the communities most affected--Black and low-income communities--have had a hard time getting a seat at the table and making our voices heard.

Our country has a clear problem. With just 5% of the world's population, America holds nearly 25% of the world's reported prison population. Our prison population has quadrupled since 1984, and most of the increase comes from people being imprisoned for drug offenses--mostly minor and nonviolent.[2]

Despite the fact that there is no statistical difference in drug use between different racial groups, harsh drug laws have had a devastating, disproportionate effect on Black communities. While only 12% of the U.S. population is African-American, Black people make up 37% of those arrested on drug charges, 59% of those convicted, and 74% of all drug offenders sentenced to prison.[3]

It's surprising and encouraging that someone like Senator Webb is speaking out in this way. Webb is a White politician from Virginia, a Southern "law-and-order" state that has abolished parole and executed more people than any state besides Texas.[4] He has nothing to gain politically from this--it's an act of true conviction.

By eloquently making the case for reform and calling for a National Criminal Justice Commission, Webb has created a major opening to address these issues. And it comes at a time when there are increasing signs the country is ready for reform. New York's governor and state legislature just struck a deal to reform the state's "Rockefeller drug laws"--some of the harshest laws in the country, and a great example of the failed status quo.[5] A panel of federal judges has just told California it must reduce its prison population by a third to alleviate the torturous conditions stemming from overcrowding.[6] And at the same time that more people are recognizing the deep injustices in our system, the economic crisis is forcing elected officials at all levels of government to realize they can't afford to keep directing so many taxpayer dollars toward law enforcement, jails, and prisons.[7]

We need to make the most of this moment. Please join me in thanking Senator Jim Webb for his courageous stand and support his call for a meaningful commission. And when you do, please ask your friends and family to do the same.


3. See reference 2


Stephen Frazier said...

While your figures regarding the ratios of white and black convicts may be relevant, I think the REAL problem is within the community.

I don't CARE if EVERY black person who commits a crime goes to jail and NO whites go to jail. I have the same disdain for ALL criminals, regardless of their color.

It is also true that a much larger percentage of blacks are wards of government, but I don't hear anyone (except those mean, evil, racist Republicans) harping about WELFARE REFORM.

There are just too many NON CRIMINAL blacks who need to be praised, and we spend all this time DEFENDING criminals.

Rather than spending so much time looking at our prisons, we should be looking at ourselves. said...

Stephen Fraizer, thanks for your thoughtful comments. The focus of this article is on improving the criminal justice system in a manner that will impact the social condition at the community level. The issue of "WELFARE REFORM." as adequately been covered by the Regan Revolution of the 1980's, thus it was not the intent to discuss that issue in this article. I would be interested in reading any thoughts that you have on Welfare Reform in the 21st century.

TenFeet2Hands said...

I believe that the direction the DOJ is moving in under Eric Holder, will improve the system. I cannot believe that in this country, a FIXED' system of Justice' and the inherent negative practices will occur in four years. Like racism, Justice has a history and members who must die off before real progress can become visible.

The Justice System is not static --it lives in one form or another throughout this country. The omnipotence of some who sit in judgment positions are in need of revision/replacement, as are the methods of operation in forms of ex parte agreements and plea bargains which occur within the process of preparing for court appearances.

The Expert witness, DNA, fingerprints, “Eye witness” extenuating circumstances, and a host of other legal tools used to mitigate the guilt of select defendants is illegal. If law were truly blind, the truth would also be valid regardless of whose lips the words originated. Women need not be defamed in courts in sexual assaults cases and men need not be without guilt because ‘he holds a job‘. Black crime would be on par with white crime and the courts would not be used for 21st century genocide of Black males.

There are too many issues to FIX in the Justice System for one man, any one man, and I have not even mentioned The Supreme Court and the lesser Courts of Appeal. They are all infected with the bias of the Human mind and, as for Judges, very little is done to investigate each and every decision, which every Judge makes. The checks and balances at that level are missing for definitive controls, which justify and validate every decision.

As long as Humans are making decisions, there either will be errors and the lives, lost emotionally or physically, are not worth a second look (especially for Blacks) every life is valuable. Yes, it will take more than four years to clean up all of the dirt and create a CLEAN society where Justice truly is blind. If we are fortunate, President Obama will serve a second term as will AG Eric Holder.

Harold Michael Harvey said...

JR, just one comment on this quote from your comment below:

"The Expert witness, DNA, fingerprints, “Eye witness” extenuating circumstances, and a host of other legal tools used to mitigate the guilt of select defendants is illegal."

These are tools used by attorneys in their everyday practice and in and of themselves such tools used to mitigate guilt is not in and of itself illegal. The harm is that the poor can not afford to hire investigators who can produce the evidence that frees them. Herein lies a major problem with the criminal justice system. There is justice for those who can afford the lawyers and forensic investigators to properly prosecute their case.

I speak as a former lawyer who had to represent the criminally accused without much in the way of fees or resources to hire the necessary investigators to maintain the presumption of innocence.

That I never lost a Black man to the Georgia electric chair in the five capital case entrusted to me says more about my ability to go out and conduct my own investigation than the fact my clients had the financial resources to hire the best legal team that money could buy.

Most lawyers do not do this, not because they do not care, but because other areas of their practice will suffer along with their bank account. I wasn't in it for the money so that was not a factor to prevent me from putting in the time necessary to save an innocence man facing the death penalty because some District Attorney thought it was a safe bet to gain reelection.

But the work was overwhelming and at age 50, I found myself exhausted and out of the practice of law.

I'm now refreshed and ready to get back in the game of reshaping the public perception of criminal justice in our great nation, as an advocate for reform based upon the knowledge I obtained as a practitioner of the law.

TenFeet2Hands said...


My issue with the Justice system is the iniquity of the exact scenario you described in your practice. If in fact, Justice (the system) was fair the issue of money and resources would NOT be a contributing factor in the guilt or innocence of any person. The scales of Justice are too frequently slanted, fixed fraught with Lawyer incompetence or Judge Bias in favor of the wealth of the client NOT the guilt or innocence.

My experience in the courts has been as juror and with CASA, therefore; my observations are not personal but functional and I am impatiently waiting for my 70th, which will excuse me from Jury duty thereafter. The entire imbalanced process sickens me and I have observed judges inject pure bias into cases -- NOT being a lawyer but with two Master’s Degrees, I am educated in logic and the language of the courts. This is the place from where I express my emotion on this subject and I will continue to be sickened until Justice is truly blind and the system is fixed.

AG Eric Holder is one human, who with all of the power he possesses, can only do so much in the time he has committed to this job. Aside: I watched his speech and listened well, I know that he said, "I am glad to be back at the DOJ for the last time..." I do not know what he meant by "Last time" I can only surmise that he is planning something either highly controversial, or retirement in four years.

It is unlikely that anyone will get what they want because they want it that would require action and a social movement to force the change, which can/will justify a justification process for Justice, which is available to everyone. No-one need be convicted on any other basis than guilt, far too many innocent people are behind bars and a disproportionate number of guilty are free. That is NOT Justice, the sentencing process is also disproportionate and not just due to race. The Justice system is an ‘injustice system’ and I see no real revamping in the near future.

Paper Puzzle