A middle-aged man dreaming of the day when he can stop begging for scraps and write for a living.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Justice vs. Vengeance

Here in the US we have a problem with crime. We're obsessed with it. We dedicate outrageous resources to dealing with it and even romanticize it to some degree (have you seen the latest episodes of COPS, CSI or Law & Order?). In our fantasies the innocent are protected and the guilty are punished. Yes, I said "fantasies" because we have an idealized notion of crime and punishment and it's causing some serious problems.

A recent study points out that 4% of the people on death row are innocent and that percentage is higher for those sentenced to life in prison. Contemplate that for a moment: four out of every hundred people sentenced to death are victims of our legal system. Does that shock you? Does it bother you at all? It does for me, but I know people who don't give it a second thought. For them it's an acceptable margin of error.

Consider also that we spend about $74 billion a year nationwide up from $37 billion in 2007 and just about as much as we spend on food stamps for the poor. It's become a major growth industry for the private sector meaning that once again we've found a way to make a profit off the suffering and misery of others. But they deserve it, right? They're convicted criminals, whether or not they actually did the crime.

American prisons are brutal places. When the inmates aren't preying on each other they're at the mercy of their guards. It's a problem we've known about for twenty years or more and we've turned a blind eye to it. Why? There's a prevailing attitude in the US that people who end up in prison deserve to be abused under the guise of "punishment." We're cutting rehabilitation programs across the board so we can spend money to build more prisons, resulting in high rates of recidivism: inmates returning to prison because they re-offend after they're released.

I submit that with these attitudes and the policies reflecting them, we have transformed our justice system into a vengeance system. We've abandoned the notion that prison is a place to separate troublesome members of our society and teach them not to be problems, but a place to abandon them where they can suffer as they deserve. Consider that with the margin for error in the percentage of innocent victims in the prison system and the overrepresentation of minorities you've got a recipe for a human rights disaster.

1 comment:

Misanthropic Scott said...

I just saw this and thought you might find it interesting and relevant to your death penalty statistic in this thread.