Friday, March 27, 2009

The need to overhaul America’s criminal justice system

The U.S. criminal justice system has become overly reliant on incarceration while not necessarily seeing a corresponding drop in crime. Virginia Senator Jim Webb has introduced legislation to review of the nation's entire criminal justice system and offering concrete recommendations for reform.

From Senator Webb’s office:
"America's criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace," said Senator Webb. "With five percent of the world's population, our country houses twenty-five percent of the world's prison population. Incarcerated drug offenders have soared 1200% since 1980. And four times as many mentally ill people are in prisons than in mental health hospitals. We should be devoting precious law enforcement capabilities toward making our communities safer. Our neighborhoods are at risk from gang violence, including transnational gang violence.


Senator Webb's interest in reforming the U.S. criminal justice system stems from his days as a Marine Corps officer, sitting on courts-martial, and "thinking about the interrelationship between discipline and fairness." Later, as an attorney, he spent six years in pro bono representation of a young African American Marine accused of war crimes in Vietnam, eventually clearing the man's name three years after he took his own life.

Twenty-five years ago, while working on special assignment for Parade Magazine, Webb was the first American journalist allowed inside the Japanese prison system, where he "became aware of the systemic dysfunctions of the U.S. system." Japan, with half of the United States' population at that time, had only 40,000 sentenced prisoners in jail compared to the U.S.'s 580,000; today, the U.S. has 2.38 million prisoners and another five million involved in the process, either due to probation or parole situations.

"We are not protecting our citizens from the increasing danger of criminals who perpetrate violence and intimidation as a way of life, and we are locking up too many people who do not belong in jail," concluded Webb. "I believe that American ingenuity can discover better ways to deal with the problems of drugs and nonviolent criminal behavior while still minimizing violent crime and large-scale gang activity.

"We all deserve to live in a country made better by such changes," said Webb.


Paul Hammond said...

Couldn't agree more about the seriousness of the problem. Reform of the prison system is a start, but the roots go deeper I'm afraid. A social welfare system that rewards responsiblity, encourages self reliance and intact families is also necessary. There's a reason why asian immigrants and others quickly pass the average standard of living of blacks, a dedication towards education and strong family support.

There's no question though that the current criminal justice system just feeds into the cycle of crime and poverty.

Comrade Kevin said...

Lock 'em up and throw away the key has never worked and never will.

Paul Hammond said...

Let's hope you don't stumble into the backseat of a squad car either through bad judgement or bad luck, or maybe you writing this from the inside.

Then again you're probably just yankin' my chain.