America’s Dysfunctional Justice System

One of the things that surprises me most in America is our justice system.

I think it’s safe to say that Americans probably haven’t got more criminal blood in them than other people do. Having said that, here is the problem.

Statistics show that a little less than 5% of the worlds population lives in America. Another statistic shows that 25% of the worlds prisoners live in an American prison. It’s easy math to figure out that in the USA there are five times more people in prison than there should be. And if there is no such thing as being more criminal than people in other countries, the question is how did that happen?

If the difference compared to other countries would be ten or twenty percent, we could discuss if there are for example more people who live in poverty, who can’t find a job, and therefore are more likely to turn into a criminal.

But unemployment, growing up in a broken family, poverty, are circumstances that can be found everywhere. And if there is more poverty or unemployment in the USA compared to other Nations, the difference would be ten percent. Not five hundred.

To figure this one out, we need to analyse our justice system, we need to analyse what the goal of our justice system is and what it is based on. I realize this is holy ground for most Americans, and criticizing it would automatically mean I’m not a patriot. Because why would one criticize our Justice system? My answer would be, because it obviously doesn’t work. But a true American is supposed to love his Justice System, even if it doesn’t work. And the fact that we got five times more prisoners than other Nations is a detail that doesn’t need to be discussed. And even with the statistics in front of them, some people still feel that we should punish our criminals even harder.

Although I personally think that religion should have no influence on the justice system, it’s also pretty clear that our justice system is for an important part based on old religious rules. The more Conservative Christian a State is, the harsher the sentences. I’m not a religion expert but i know enough of it to wonder why for some reason Christians all over the world focus on the New Testament, based on forgiveness and Christians in America are more focused on the Old Testament with the ‘Eye for an Eye’ rules.

Rules based on hate. People ignore the fact that -from the point of view of their own religion- those rules were no longer the rule once Jesus came and preached forgiveness instead of revenge, preached love instead of hate. They ignore that Jesus faced a couple of people in his life who were about to be executed and in all occasions he asked for a stay. And Christians are told to live the way Jesus lived. So it’s actually not that complicated to figure out what the Christian religion actually says about it.

I think religion should not influence any system, but still, the justice System in America is based on Old Testament rules. And there is the difference, because in most other countries the criminal Justice System is based on the best way to fight crime. And statistics prove that the best way is not to go by the Old Testament because all other first world countries have a better record as far as fighting crime goes than the USA has.

The American Justice System is based on ‘if you hurt someone, we will hurt you back’. Very understandable for victims of crimes, for their families. And if someone would hurt my sister, i would probably feel like that too. But understandable as it is, it just doesn’t seem to work.

In most other countries the victims of crimes, their families, have no part in a trial in court. They don’t have a say in how they want someone to be punished for his crimes. That’s the job of the judge. The only thing a judge will look at is what kind of crime someone did, what his circumstances are and how long he should be in prison for it. The role of prisons is also different. It’s not based on giving someone a hard time, it’s based on making sure that whenever a person is released from jail, he will have a chance in life and will probably never commit a crime again.

It’s often frustrating for victims of crimes, but then again it’s pretty much proven to work better and to cause a safer society. This gives us the choice. Are we going to give one victim the right to revenge and by doing so, create the next victims, or is the most important issue to make sure there will not be a next victim?

Not long ago, a family i know had to report their son for running away from home. Fifteen years old, never committed a crime, never had to do anything with the Justice System. Just a fifteen year old boy, puberty hits, he didn’t agree with his parents, ran away from home, informed people that he was alright via Facebook but ok, he ran away and he was not supposed to do that. A day later the cops picked him up and took him to Juvenile Hall. He had to spend a week there and in that week he learned to never do something like that again. No crime committed, but he ran away from home and after a week in prison, he was released and sure he would never do it again.

The Justice system did what it had to do. The kid had been scared for a week, regretted what he did, learned from it. Unfortunately the story didn’t end there.

The system now wants that kid to spend the next four years in jail. For what? For running away from home for one day. No crime committed, nothing else than running away from home. No one feels the need to lock him up but the Texas justice system probably thinks it is a good idea to lock a fifteen year old kid without a criminal history whatsoever, up in the middle of a bunch of criminals. If you would write a book called ‘how to create a criminal’ this would be your story.

And this is only one example where the Justice System is too harsh and totally dysfunctional. Too focused on the idea that the tougher the sentence, the more it scares people of to do crimes. An idea that has been scientifically disproved, but unfortunately the system doesn’t like to use statistics.

Even though most will criticize me for even mentioning it, there is a very famous example of where our Justice System goes wrong. Who doesn’t know the Texas Seven? Seven criminals, all convicted for various crimes, serious crimes, and most of them had no option of ever getting out of prison again, so they had nothing to lose and tried to escape from jail.

The leader of the gang who organized it all, George Rivas, had before he escaped from prison, never killed or wounded anyone. Never. Yet he was sentenced to eighteen consecutive life sentences for armed robberies. More than any serial killer who escaped the Death Penalty. Let’s all agree that armed robbery is a serious crime,  for which one should be punished. But come on, eighteen life sentences? The sentence meant that under the parole rules back then, he could be released after 270 years. So he was sure to never get out of prison alive, no hope, no future, nothing.

And for some horrible crimes life in prison should be the sentence. But if you never killed or wounded anyone, the sentence is ridiculous. Without defending anything Rivas ever did, this sentence was the reason that he tried to escape. An escape that later on would cause the horrible death of a police officer. And one can only wonder what would have happened if they would have given Rivas a more European sentence, eight years in prison and the chance to start a normal life after that. He probably wouldn’t have tried to escape in the first place, because there was still hope, there was still a future, he would still have a chance.

On a Youtube video i saw an eighteen year old kid who was just caught for three robberies. He has never ever seen his dad, his mom was a prostitute, he grew up without anyone caring about him. He got hungry, robbed a store, that worked out so the next time he got hungry he knew what to do. Three weeks later the kid had made a total of 400 Dollars with his robberies before he got caught. And now a prosecutor wants him to go to jail for 45 years. If he’s lucky he can be paroled after thirty years, he will be 48 by then and the only thing he will know will be criminals and their tricks. So not only will his life be ruined, the chances are that by the time he will be released, he will continue doing what he knows best by then. Being a criminal.

You don’t have to be very forgiving to figure out that a kid like that should realize that what he did was wrong, that he should be punished for it, but that it makes no sense to throw someone like him in jail for so long. It’s bad for him, it costs a lot of money and the streets might be safer for now, but they probably wont be thirty years from now. Something that all can be avoided.

In European countries the kid would have been sentenced to prison for two years. The first year based on punishment, on not having any freedoms or extra’s, and if he behaves, the next year will be focused on making sure he will be reintegrated in society. He will have an ID, a bank account, a home. Companies are subsidized if they hire him for a job and if all goes well, he will end up having a future and a better alternative than committing crimes.

It’s human to have a hard time not to hate. Reading this i already know what a lot of people will think. ‘It’s way too soft. Why do I have to pay for a criminal? I had trouble when I was a kid too, i never ended up being a criminal, it’s his own choice? Throw him in jail, that will teach him. No one is arranging a job for me, why would they do it for a criminal?’

All human reactions. And all will probably be answered with a lot more applause than i will get for writing this. But they all ignore the fact i started with. The USA has five times more prisoners than it should have. Part of it because of very long sentences, for another part because the system creates it’s own criminals. If tough sentences don’t work, and tougher sentences still don’t work, then it might be a good idea to try more humane sentences. It might work to not base a whole system on hate and revenge, but on reintegration. It might work to look at all other first world countries, who all spend less money on their prison system, have less prisoners and less recidivists.

And guess what? With a more humane Justice System there will be less people entitled to say that they are paying for it all. Former criminals will end up being normal tax payers. There will be more people working to pay for less criminals. The streets will be safer. The crime rate will decrease.

We all win. The only ones that lose will be those two pillars our Justice System is based on. Hate and Revenge.


3 Responses to America’s Dysfunctional Justice System

  1. Hey John, congrats on your first blog, very interesting points of view, I enjoyed reading them, looking forward to more in the future. Good Stuff.

    • linnyitssn says:

      Thanks a lot, appreciate it. Two questions? I tried to check your blog and didn’t work, other one, did you change your twitter nick? Cuz couldn’t find you anymore? Thanks again!

  2. christyc28 says:

    Brilliantly written and I, for one, most certainly applaud you for writing this and agree 100%!!! Too bad you and I will be the minority, I’m afraid!

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