A Revolution of Values in the United States Criminal Justice System

The United States criminal justice system has wandered off far from its structure of parsimony and rehab. As our nation assesses the contributions of African Americans throughout Black History Month, we would also succeed to determine the development of our society, structures, and organizations versus among Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s most prophetic admonitions: “We as a country need to go through an extreme transformation of values.” Dr. King spoke those words on April 4, 1967– precisely one year before his assassination– while attending to a crowd at New York’s Riverside Church. “We should quickly start … the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.” Today, half a century later on, Dr. King’s prescient require a “transformation of values” still proves out, and no place is such a transformation more required than within America’s criminal justice system. The values forming the criminal justice system need an extreme improvement. The punitive technique that drives existing policies emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, when the main theory of criminal justice moved from rehab to retribution and criminal offense control. Sadly, I know this method much better than most, having experienced the ruthlessness and cruelty of our criminal legal system direct.

In 1996, I pled guilty to a novice nonviolent drug offense and was sentenced to 10 years in jail with an obligatory minimum of 40 months in jail to be served before I was qualified for release. While at the time I was detached from college, I quickly might have been reengaged in postsecondary education with the suitable push. Rather, I was sent out to reside in a cage for 40 months. Throughout my imprisonment, my hopes and dreams for the future suffered as I was rejected access to college and other chances for human advancement. Once launched, I dealt with the automated suspension of my chauffeur’s license; the long-term loss of my ballot rights in my state of birth; myriad barriers to work and education; and the common preconception of a criminal conviction. During my profession as a lawyer and justice reform supporter, I have found that my scenario was far from irregular in a system that welcomes the values of retribution and penalty rather than those of proportionality, rehab, and chance. Today, approximately 2.2 million Americans are put behind bars in state and federal jails and local prisons– a 500 percent boost in just 40 years– and there are more than 70 million Americans dealing with a rap sheet. The increase in imprisonment rates has  not impacted all neighborhoods similarly.

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Blacks and Latinos jointly represent around 30 percent of the general population, but represent almost 60 percent of the jail population. For black men, the imprisonment rate is more than 6 times greater than it is for white men and more than 2 and a half times greater than it is for Hispanic men. The cumulative repercussions of mass imprisonment for neighborhoods of color– much of which lose substantial varieties of working-age males and females to the criminal justice system– consist of the production of geographical pockets of focused hardship, intergenerational structural disadvantages, and blossoming racial inequality. Mass imprisonment has considerable social expenses not only in human terms but also in dollars and cents. Every year, the United States invests more than $80 billion on local prisons and state and federal jails. Correctional expenses place a massive pressure on state spending plans, straight affecting states’ capability to money essential neighborhood programs and sustaining a vicious circle of neighborhood disinvestment. An agreement has emerged throughout the political spectrum that mass imprisonment is an unsuccessful public law, with supporters varying from the ACLU to the Koch bros speaking up in favor of criminal justice reform. Missing from these essential discussions, nevertheless, is a conversation about the values that must stimulate a new criminal justice system.

Many reformers recognize with values such as liberty, equality, and pragmatism, but an extra value is vital to the motion to end mass imprisonment: parsimony. The concept of parsimony needs that “penalties for criminal offense, and particularly lengths of jail sentences, ought to never ever be more extreme than is essential to accomplish the retributive or preventive functions for which they are enforced.” Parsimony holds that any needlessly severe penalty is ethically unjustifiable. Regardless of the retributive focus of our criminal justice system today, the United States has some structure in parsimonious practices. Up until the last years of the 20th century, the main objective of the justice system was rehab. Judges were empowered to customize sentences to an accused’s particular needs and situations, with a concentrate on promoting effective reintegration into society. U.S. law continues to use parsimonious assistance in sentencing for federal criminal offenses, specifying that “the court will enforce a sentence adequate, but not higher than needed.” Courts, in identifying the suitable sentence, ought to examine a variety of different factors consisting of the nature, scenarios, and severity of the offense; the “history and attributes” of the person charged; and whether the sentence or penalty offers a chance for the person credited get required instructional or employment training, treatment, or other treatment that attends to the source of an individual’s contact with the criminal justice system.