Saturday, August 4, 2007

At the Root of the Violence

' 'Little Man' James, we hope and believe, represents the outer limits of this city's nightmare.'

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This article reveals several interesting observations about the function of the criminal justice system as a means to control crime. Let me be so bold as to suggest that the criminal justice system is over matched when it comes to the issue of crime control. Society's expectations of the police, courts, and prisons to eliminate, or even reduce significantly, the volume of crime in this country is way out of proportion to the reality.

Let's consider Durkheim's argument that crime is normal in any society. If we keep referring to crime as a problem that the criminal justice system must solve, then failure is the only result. Do you think we have won the war on crime or the war on drugs? But what if we treated crime like a condition instead of a problem? If you have diabetes, can you cure the condition? Of course not. But can't you manage the disease so that the symptoms do not significantly impact your quality of life? The answer is obvious.

So if we treat crime as a condition that must be managed instead of a problem that must be solved, what is the first step toward success? Don't do anything that will make the condition worse!

U.S. prisons now employ more people that Ford, GM, and Walmart combined. While the crime rate has dropped over the past decade, we have continued our imprisonment binge. But do you think that crime is better or worse?

The police can increase arrests by impressive percentages. Prosecutors can accumulate impressive conviction rates, and the prison population can continue to grow. But at what costs?

State budgets for health and welfare and corrections have overtaken educational budgets. And there is no end in sight. But take note - reported crime has been increasing slightly in large cites for the past several years - is this a trend?

The comments from the police executives about the need for the community to be involved in responding to crime were just as true at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution as is the case today. The criminal justice system is a palliative, and a very expensive, but increasingly less effective one at that. The seeds of our current problems were sown centuries ago.

I strongly suggest that our sentencing laws need a serious overhaul as does our philosophy. The "get tough approach" has failed, yet like the classic definition of insanity, we keep doing the same things, but expect different results.

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