Monday, March 16, 2009

The Criminal Injustice System

From CounterPunch, a new essay by former Reagan administration economist and current conservative dissident Paul Craig Roberts:

I am familiar with psychological studies that conclude that eye witness accounts are wrong half of the time. That is enough to discredit eye witness testimony as evidence; yet, police and juries always bank on it.


The American criminal justice system is incapable of admitting that it makes mistakes. The criminology bureaucrats claim that those inmates who proclaim their innocence are in denial and, thus, cannot be rehabilitated and, therefore, remain dangerous. In truth, it is the bureaucrats who are in denial and constitute a danger to justice.


The criminal justice system has nothing to do with justice. It is a massive producer of injustice. The agenda is to clear court dockets and to produce high conviction rates. These high rates are achieved through coerced plea bargains.


On February 12, CBS News reported that two Pennsylvania judges have been charged with sending kids to privately operated detention centers in exchange for $2.6 million in payoffs.


The US has the highest incarceration rate and the biggest prison population of any country in the world. With 5 percent of the world’s population, the US has 25 percent of the world’s prison inmates. Recent research by the Pew Center concludes that one in every 31 Americans is in prison or jail or on probation or parole.

More here.

I hope and pray that I am never ever ever ever somehow caught up in the grips of this American institution, the criminal justice system, that is clearly and obviously out of control. Roberts does a nice job of touching on some of the major Kafkaesque absurdities and contradictions of the anti-crime industry, but he left out one of the major issues: American "justice" is horrifyingly skewed toward innocent people of color, especially African-Americans; extraordinarily unfair, but fortunate for me, my white skin affords some amount of protection against this bureaucratic monster.

I've posted countless times here at Real Art about how police forces across the nation are often little better than predators. I've posted on how jury duty is for me at best problematic, and at worst immoral. But none of that really gets across the sheer enormity of the scandal: the police and the courts are about processing people, some guilty, some innocent, for reasons that have little to do with determining the truth, little to do with justice. It's all so much more about the careers of cops, judges, lawyers, and politicians, what's good for them. Not about what's good for the people, good for the nation.

This ought to be front page news every fucking day. This ought to be right up there on President Obama's priority list, along with the economy and terrorism. But it's not. Almost nobody is talking about it. For a long time, I've wondered if I'm a bit weird to be so nervous about cops. Increasingly, with each death row inmate exonerated by DNA evidence, with each story I read about police misbehavior or bizarre overzealous prosecution, I'm starting to think my fear of police is healthy.

After all, they have the power to upend your life, or take it away permanently, whether you've broken the law or not. And they have legions of people in business suits working for the government ready and gleefully willing to stamp the process with a legal seal of approval.

Ever seen Hitchcock's The Wrong Man? Check out the trailer:

Fiction yes, fantasy no.