On the U.S. Justice System

Length: 744 words

The United States of America has historically been a shit place for Justice. A bloody mess of Manifest Destiny and caste capitalism. Our outdated legal system has failed time and again to match the pace of society and technology, and current events have shown how skewed justice is for our all of our citizens.

The Problems:

We, as a society, have allowed profit prisons to exist, an industry that literally thrives off the existence of criminals. This isn’t like non-governmental organizations established to help the homeless or assist our wounded veterans; once their services are no longer needed, grants are no longer given. Our prisons are increasingly operating as for-profit businesses, and their interest is in maintaining a criminal population. If we have anything to learn from growth-focused capitalism, this is a dystopian reality.

Crime is a business but Justice is not.

Not only this, but the percentages reveal a Justice system that has disproportionally targeted minorities, and even more specifically, black males. Our country is still divided by racial prejudices, physically and emotionally. (For more on this subject, read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow). Then the frightening streak of police officers shooting unarmed African American men and children.

Our Constitution grants us the right to life.

The Situation:

The founders of our legal system crafted a system designed for freedom yet mired in discrimination, granting rights to only a slim portion of the population. This established a mindset of power that has existed and perpetuated to this day. It took us centuries to extend rights to every citizen as our Bill of Rights so famously proclaims.

The branches of government were meant to keep each other in check, but what happens when all three have shown utter ineptitude to progress? Technology is rapidly scaling society’s pace of change. How is our Justice system defined centuries ago keeping up?

Current law gives space for discretion such that hard-and-fast rules do not result in permanent convictions of people who honestly meant no harm to society. But what happens when discretion is misused? We need to reconstruct the boundaries that guide our judges of discretion. When a government employee holds the power to affect a citizen’s life with their discretion, then when the judgement is wrong, there should be repercussions that remove or revoke that officer’s power.

This stems from the economics of law. In a perfect world, we would only catch those who were truly guilty of their crimes. But with this being impossible, we construct a legal system that maybe misses some of the guilty but avoids falsely imprisoning people. Hence the idea: innocent until proven guilty.

However, our new world of transparency has revealed a Justice system that is frequently guilty until proven innocent. And in the most heinous of perversions, this maxim is resulting in some sworn protectors shooting those under their watch, their care. The numbers are in: just one falsely shot person is worse than letting a criminal getting away.

Because then to whom do the innocent turn? Where can trust exist?

The Future:

The spirit of our laws pursue the notions of freedom, of innocence before guilt, yet the numbers are undeniably showing a disconnect between some of our judges and their accused. Any government official whose discretion affects another citizen’s life is a judge. And when they fail, they’ve failed another life. Do we allow our greatest wielders of Justice to keep making mistakes?

No one is perfect, including government officials, but what we fear most is discretion beyond its boundaries. What we fear are arbiters of personal ethics. The system is fundamentally flawed if its agents act outside of its structure; and believe always that the Justice system of the United States is for EVERY citizen.

Crafting a new Justice system for our nation is beyond this article (and certainly the breadth of my current knowledge), but there are a few concepts I’d like to see put forward on a federal level:

  • Rehabilitation for non-violent crimes; no more imprisonment.
  • End “War on Drugs” convictions; the slew of legislation from the Nixon Administration onward has spiraled into the devastating rates of incarceration that have trampled homes, neighborhoods, and communities. Because Prohibition was super successful…
  • Innocence over guilt; ramifications for government officials that falsely condemn another citizen (international laws should apply to non-citizens).

This could go on and on, but thanks for reading this far. Please chime in with thoughts or share or whatever the hell you want.