Essays Criminal Justice

I just served up a whole lot of content. Thanks for clicking through and learning more about the photographers and their work. In contested sites and seemingly controversial debates, everything is about context, so I wanted to add a (very lengthy) footer here linking to the best stuff on Medium in this month of March as concerns criminal justice. It was fruitful and challenging to hear from lawmakers, advocates, returning citizens, cops, judges, community activists, and prisoners themselves, to name a few.

Here’s how I saw it play out:

Medium stoked the fires early with an invite to Republicans Senator Orrin Hatch, Senator David Perdue, Senator Tom Cotton and Trump “foreign policy” advisor Sen. Jeff Sessions to lay out their positions on the currently-debated Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. Theywent on a tear about how it is too lenient. If you can stomach such retrograde opinions read here: one, two, three, four.

Thankfully there’s a US Senator with some common sense and moral compass who is countering Republicans’ Punish-As-Usual approach: Cory Booker wrote a wise retort “Why Public Safety and Justice Are Not Mutually Exclusive in America”. Of course, that shouldn’t come as a surprise as he, along with Senators Chuck Schumer, John Cornyn and others co-sponsored the bill. (Sen. Chuck Grassley introduced the bill to the Senate.)

Hey, but liberals aren’t all good. Meagan Day describes how in their attempts to remove bias from the system in the 70s, liberals ushered in Mandatory Minimums and screwed up the criminal justice system. At least now there’splenty of lawmakers who want to abolish mandatory minimums, so says AJ+.

The United States is made of much more than our legislators though, and so it was thrilling to read the words of former prisoner Russel Omar-Shareef who is now a free man and making art. Similarly, it was sobering to hear the self-told story of Arnold Cabarris who is in his 18th year of a grossly unfair 21-year sentence. Specialising in complexity, The Genocide That Genocide Created, by John Fisher for Those People, is a very important 3-part series about the crack cocaine explosion told from the perspectives of a former Baltimore drug dealer, a current Washington D.C. police officer, and a recovered Maryland drug addict.

The indubitable JJIE continues to serve up countless narratives from youth inside the system — almost too many to mention, but this piece From The Inside on arts as rehabilitation, and these reflections by Chapo, a 16-year-old kid being sentenced as an adult stand out. Likewise, youthradio gives voice to the children in our justice system and simultaneously tallies those voices with the giant co$t of juvenile justice.

More on juvenile justice … Sarah Bryer wrote a letter to the next President, and Ira David Socol looked at how schools produce problems, prisoners and abusive cops. Oh, and on violent cops, the Inst. for Policy Studies on how they occupy lower income schools all-the-while presuming guilt. Dwayne Betts for ACLU National talked about he was in cuffs and solitary at age 16 even before he went to trial. Let’s just do away with solitary for kids can’t we already?

There were many highlights in the Town Hall Meetings where — on topics ranging from addiction, drugs laws and alternatives to incarceration — I heard the expertise of Nazgol Ghandnoosh and Jeremy Haile from The Sentencing Project, Aviva Shen from Think Progress, Simone Weichselbaum from The Marshall Project, Joanna Schwartz from UCLA School of Law, Sakira Cook, Michael Collins from Drug Policy Alliance, Diane Goldstein from LEAP, Jesselyn McCurdy from ACLU, Matt Mendoza from Addiction Unscripted, Paul LarkinMichael G. Santos of Earning Freedom, Seth Ferranti, and Irving Schattner, LCSW.

I dove into the republished articles of Shaka Senghor (who made one helluva impression on Russell Simmons). Elsewhere, Jeff Adachi and his staff at the San Francisco Public Defenders Office explain that Federal reforms are a good thing but nowhere near a solution to decades of broken policy. And Carl Tennenbaum’s account of his work as a Narcotics Officer in San Francisco is eye-opening. From Katherine Katcher, I learnt about Root & Rebound’s reentry work and films about returning citizens’ experiences. I discovered Planting Justice.

On and on, Zachary Norris, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights explained how the debate over reparations was derailed before it even began — largely due to the fact that people aren’t seeing reparations as “reinvestment in our communities.”

I’ll end there because that’s a good point to understand how much our thinking and laws need to shift if we’re to right this ship. Billions on cops and corrections won’t solve deep rooted inequalities and social ills. Billions on schools, healthcare, reliable food, mental health treatment, and jobs will. More than the politicians or the police, it is the people who should be given the resources to improve their communities.

The Criminal Justice System has many components that make up its system. The police, corrections, and the courts all play the role and act together in trying to maintain the most respectable and functional CJS. A system where each uses their own judgments on how to play their role. The views of each can vary from how they each feel the court system works and the integrity of it. Many factors can play a role in the way in which these people feel on the actual court system process. Such factors being where they work within the system, if they are judges, cops, lawyers or social service officers can change the way they feel the system works. Factors of where they work geographically and the views and opinions of those areas can also shape the way the person feels about the system.

The Police are the gatekeepers of the CJS. They are the ones who find the people who are violating laws and arrest them based on their discretion and situation of the case. Since, the patrol officers are who start many of the cases that go to court. They are the ones that should be interviewed on whether or not the court system works, the court system has integrity and what would that specific officer do to change the court system.

The first patrol officer that was interviewed was from the Mount Prospect police. When he was asked the first question on if he felt the court system worked, he paused and then smiled the word “yes”. He felt it did for the most part, as he felt most Americans did as well. He believed it all mattered on what side you might be on. He mostly found this question to be elementary and found himself confused, but he concluded it with determining it the best system in the world, but could use much improvement. The second question given to the officer was if he felt the court system had integrity. He thought that most people within the system do have integrity. However, he has seen situations where it has caused absolute murder towards the system. He thinks that internal and external pressure on the police, attorneys, judges, etc., can cause for some to turn the dark side. But he noted that every other profession has the situation for anything to occur that can hurt their system.

When the officer was asked the final question on what he would like to do change the court system he seemed to get excited, as if he had a lot to say. He first off felt that their should be better monitoring of all the pieces within the system. He felt that from the judges to the police officers they all should be better monitored. He felt last of all that the citizens as a whole, consisting of the police, judges, etc, should not allow the System to be manipulated by the powerful and therefore cost the weak to lose their rights and privileges.

The second officer that was interviewed was from Hawthorne Woods and he and their department are located Lake County. He was younger than the first which figured he might have a different opinion, and the fact that the Counties were different may also play a role. Lake County is more conservative and has far more Republicans than Cook county. Therefore, the Court system in Lake may differ from those of Cook due to the political background and lobbying that may be done in the system.

When the officer was asked the first question whether he felt the court system worked, he confidently replied in favor. He believed that for the most part the court system does work. He felt with the right people and right direction then the court system will work. However, he also noted that just like anything in life there are faults and clinks. Not everything is perfect, therefore, the system worked with little problems. He concluded the question with saying it was the best game in town.

Meaning possibly that he felt that in many games, organizations and such, that there are corruption, cheating, stealing, fraud, etc., but the court system was the best. Which leads into the second question on he felt if the court system had integrity and he replied again with approval, that it did. He thought most people involved in the court system were people with integrity. He felt that most people who pursued jobs in the system were ones who have integrity. He felt people looking for corruption look elsewhere in other lines of work. He thinks people in these jobs work towards justice.

The officer was then asked his final question on what would he like to do the change the current court system. He felt much the way he did about the integrity question. He felt that he would want to strive to find people in the system that believe in just, and fairness. The people would have to be able and willing to stick by their convictions. He would like to take these people and promote them to top jobs and replace any of those who did not follow in these feelings.

Another aspect to the CJS is the branch of corrections. This is where people go when they are arrested and the judge will give out supervision, supervised supervision, and probation. All three mean different and have more serious consequences, but all three mean that you are to be under the watch of a probationary officer. Probationary officers will either meet with the felon on a schedule, or have some kind of contact with them. They make sure that the felon follows their sentence and can violate them and send back in front of the judge with harsher penalties. The last interviewee was a probationary officer from Lake County.

The officer was also asked the same questions as the first two police officers. When he was asked on if he felt the court system worked, he was unsure. He felt that the court system works when it is able to keep offenders from repeating the crimes they have committed. He felt that some sentences, or, probation time, counseling hours, etc. are not enough sometimes and can’t change all people. That most offenders do not like to have to pay fines and go to court. Tightening around the edges he feels needs to be done to keep offenders from committing more crimes. When the second question was asked to the officer on whether he felt the system had integrity he responded with a common answer. He felt that some people in the court system could be blinding by bias views. That for the most part the court system is fair. That judges use good discretion and if you think the system is not fair, then don’t go out and commit the crime.

The final question asked to the last interviewee was what would he like to do to change the court system. He responded to this question with more humor than he did any of the others. He first of all thinks that the court system works the best when it is not over crowded. He would like to decrease the flow of traffic through a court house.

Even though he didn’t have much to much insight on the changing of the court system, the idea is one that should be honestly looked at. Each of the officers that were interviewed seemed to be of short answers and not much insight. Each would always say or start off staying that there is so much they could say but then wouldn’t say much. And that to stick them with these basic questions which could send discussion groups into the morning were hard to tackle at the moment. The main difference was the atmosphere of that of the probationary officers, office and that of the police stations. The two seemed miles apart, but continue to work together to keep the CJS in flow.

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