Category: Crime & Law

Our Criminal Justice System Broken

The purpose of this is to inspire a desire in the reader to spread this information just how bad the system is broke and work to come up with solution.

A broken criminal justice system lacks transparency and accountability, creates
harmful conditions for incarcerated people, imposes unfair barriers to success for
people with arrest and conviction histories, and decreases economic stability
among families, especially among black and Latino communities.

The US Criminal Justice System is designed to convict and imprison no more no less.

Back in February of 2019 a member of my family was arrested by the FBI, DEA, US Marshal Service, I know what I’m talking about.

The Criminal Justice System,

While the United States has only 5 percent of the world’s population, it has nearly 25 percent of its prisoners — about 2.2 million people.

To understand how to fix these problems, it’s important to know what makes the federal justice system different in the first place.

Different cases, different priorities

The most common crimes, such as assault and theft, are generally prosecuted by cities, counties, and states. Federal law enforcement handles a narrower set of issues, like crimes that cross state lines or involve federal law. (For how to address the issues facing state criminal justice systems, see this companion expert brief.)

It’s no surprise, then, that the federal prison population looks different than the states’. Nearly half of all people in federal prison are incarcerated for drug offenses, compared to just 15 percent in state prisons — the product of a Supreme Court case allowing Congress to exercise broad regulatory authority over drugs, and a series of laws where Congress did just that. People convicted of weapons offenses — 19 percent of people in federal prison — make up another large part of the federal prison population, as do those held on immigration offenses, comprising 6 percent. Comparatively, more than half of those in state prison are incarcerated for crimes classified as violent, like assault and robbery.

The criminal justice system is the term used to describe the interdependent components of the police, courts, and correctional facilities within the federal government, as well as all the agencies of criminal justice of each of the fifty states. The criminal justice system is a whole, made up of these three interdependent components.

This is important to have good understand because if you think the criminal justice process is unfair, some of it would stem from the criminal law it self. The out come of the law reflects the “what” of the law, in that laws are created to define certain behaviors as crimes and then to provide punishments for violations of those laws.

So think you can see the unfairness in this example of the criminal law is the disparate punishments for crack vs. powder cocaine found in the federal sentencing guidelines . In the mid-1980s, the emergence of crack led to an increase in violence surrounding the crack market, especially among juveniles. As a result, Congress responded with sanctions that provided that 500 grams of powder cocaine and only 5 grams of crack cocaine will net a mandatory sentence of five years in federal prison.

Here is one reason this is unfair is because the disparities are not based on any real difference between crack and powder cocaine.

As noted by the US Supreme Court in Kimbrough v United States (2007): “Crack and powder cocaine have the same physiological and psychotropic effects.” Yet, because of the law that created these disparities (the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986), crack and powder cocaine cases are “ handled very differently for sentencing purposes.”As noted by the Court: “ The relevant statutes and [Federal Sentencing] Guidelines employ a 100-to-1 ratio that yields sentences for crack offenses three to six times longer than those for offenses involving equal amounts of powder. Thus, a major supplier of powder may receive a shorter sentence than a low-level dealer who buys powder and converts it to crack”.

Referring to the US Sentencing Commission, who several times unsuccessfully suggested to Congress that the disparities between crack and powder cocaine be eliminated, the Court continued:The Commission … found the disparity inconsistent with the [Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986] goal of punishing major drug traffickers more severely than low-level dealers, and furthermore observed that the differential fosters a lack of confidence in the criminal justice system because of a perception that it promotes an unwarranted divergence based on race.

That being true it bring up the question why is it that certain people can break the law and receive a slap on the wrist, while others face life changing consequences? Part of the problem comes from the fact that certain crime is visible, while other crime happens in the privacy of one’s home. The Broken Windows theory states that “visible signs of crime, anti-social behavior, and civil disorder create an urban environment that encourages further crime and disorder” is often used as a pretext for discriminatory policing. Police often target areas perceived to have higher crime rates, meaning that the likelihood that they encounter minor crimes in these areas is higher than places with fewer officers. We are led to believe that there is more crime in certain areas; if police patrol in these areas more they will encounter more crime. This would also be true in upper class suburban areas, but because the police are not around to see it, these people are not scrutinized at the same level and therefore will not be caught.

It is no wonder that these increased police presence in lower income areas results in a society in which people of color are disproportionately victims of police brutality. “A 2013 study by the New York Civil Liberties Union found that while black and Latino males between the ages of 14 and 24 made up only 4.7 percent of the city’s population, they accounted for 40.6 percent of the stop-and-frisk checks by police. More than 90 percent of those stopped were innocent. Now think about that 90% were innocent. Police have the power to use their discretion to target individuals who look suspicious, but the majority of the time, their discretion is deeply rooted in their perception of what a criminal is supposed to look like.

Here is a huge problem as I have found Conflict criminal justice issues vacillate from sentencing, juvenile justice, and mental illness to the hiring, training, & retention of good law enforcement officers.

1: Prison Overcrowding

Statistics show our prison population has reached astounding numbers, higher than ever before, with 2.3 million Americans incarcerated today and another 5 million released on parole or probation. These numbers mean that for every 31 adults, one will wind up in jail, which is a higher likelihood than most countries in the world face.

The problem is that American prisons weren’t designed to take care of this amount of people, let alone allow the number of tax dollars to support proper funding. Prisons are overcrowded, and the federal government can’t afford the cost.

But why are so many Americans in prison? the majority of those incarcerated are nonviolent offenders. Some blame prison overcrowding on a variety of issues, including mass incarceration due to unfair drug charges.

The war on drugs led to stricter drug laws that have caused the number of incarcerated drug offenders to soar 1,200% between 1980 and 2018, and most of the offenders are driven by mental illness or drug addiction issues. Then, ex-offenders often wind up back in prison or stay in prison for extremely long sentences because rehabilitation efforts are ineffective.

Overcrowding, according to Penal Reform International, is only a consequence of our criminal justice policies rather than increasing crime. No matter why overcrowding became an issue, it undermines the prison’s ability to meet basic human needs, let allow fund appropriate rehabilitation and educational programs for inmates or even fund staff training.

2: Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws

Federal Sentencing Guidelines Manual. As its name suggests, the manual guides judges toward a sentence based on the facts that led to the conviction. Unlike mandatory minimums, the sentencing guidelines are advisory, not mandatory. In calculating sentences, judges are allowed to go below or above someone’s guideline sentence depending on the circumstances of the case.

Here’s an example of how a federal judge uses the guidelines to determine a sentence for a man convicted of distributing seven kilograms of marijuana (a drug amount that is too low to trigger a mandatory minimum):

  1. The judge refers in the manual to the Drug Quantity Table, which is used to determine the “base offense level,” or the starting point, for a drug sentence. The Drug Quantity Table says that at least five kilograms of marijuana but less than 10 kilograms of marijuana triggers a base offense level of 14. Level 14 is now the starting point for the judge’s sentence calculation. (The guidelines have 43 base offense levels; the higher the level, the longer the sentence.)
  2. Next, the judge uses the guidelines to determine if the sentencing level should be raised or lowered. Let’s say the defendant sold marijuana with some friends. If he was the “organizer or leader” of that group, and the group contained five or more people, the guidelines manual says his sentencing level should be increased by four levels, which in this case would be level 18. If the defendant rented a garage where he stored and sold marijuana, he would get the two-level enhancement for maintaining drug-involved premises. If he asked his 17-year-old brother to keep an eye out for the cops, the guidelines add two levels for using a minor to commit a crime. Judges can also lower the defendant’s sentencing range if, for example, the defendant played a particularly minor role or has accepted responsibility for his crime.
  3. The judge then takes the offense level she’s calculated and converts it to a sentence using the manual’s Sentencing Table. In the case of our marijuana defendant, the sentencing table converts a Level 20 offense to a sentence of 33-41 months for someone with little or no criminal history. But let’s say our defendant has been in trouble for marijuana before; perhaps he was on probation for a smaller marijuana charge dating back a few months. That will get him at least one criminal history point for his prior conviction and an extra two points for being on probation at the time of his arrest. Three criminal history points puts him in Criminal History Category II, which increases the recommended sentence to 37-46 months.
  4. Once the judge has come up with a guideline-recommended sentence, she then considers whether any “departures” are appropriate. The Sentencing Guidelines provide for many upward and a few downward departures based on a variety of factors. For example, the judge might consider the criminal history calculation overstates our young man’s true criminal history and might then depart back to Criminal History Category I, lowering the recommended guideline sentence as a result.
  5. Finally, the court consults a federal law to test whether the guideline sentence is enough, but not too much, to punish, deter, incapacitate, and rehabilitate the defendant. If the judge finds the recommended guideline sentence is greater than necessary (or in some cases, not sufficient), she is free to vary below or above the recommended sentence.

While judges can vary from the sentencing guidelines, they can’t sentence below the mandatory minimums (except in very limited circumstances). If there is a mandatory minimum triggered by the crime, it always trumps a lower guidelines sentence. Read this FAQ for even more information about how federal sentencing works.

Criminology has uncovered a number of factors that can lead someone toward crime.

In 2018 alone, the FBI recorded about 1.2 million violent crimes and over seven million property crimes in the United States.1 While these numbers are not historically alarming, they do make it clear that crime, in all its forms, is an unfortunate part of our society. But most of us are not criminals. So what drives a small number of us to commit criminal acts?

It’s a question that has plagued humanity since the beginnings of civilization. In modern times, the study of criminology has taken a scientific approach to finding answers. While each person who commits a crime has their own unique reasons and life situation, there are a few overarching factors criminologists believe can contribute to criminal behavior.

Biological Risk Factors

Just like we can’t choose our eye color, we can’t choose the chemical makeup of our brain. This can predispose us to a variety of complications, from clinical depression to epilepsy. Some criminologists believe our biology can also predispose us to criminality. That’s not to say criminals are born that way, just that biological factors—including variances in autonomic arousal, neurobiology, and neuroendocrine functioning—have been shown to increase the likelihood that we might commit criminal acts.2

Adverse Childhood Experiences

In the same way that we can’t choose our genetics, we can’t choose how we’re raised as children. Some of us enjoy pleasant, even idyllic, childhoods, while others are less fortunate. Children raised in particularly bad situations are at an increased risk for criminal behavior in both their juvenile and adult years. In fact, research shows that convicted criminals are likely to have experienced four times as many adverse childhood events than non-criminals.3

Negative Social Environment

Who we’re around can influence who we are. Just being in a high-crime neighborhood can increase our chances of turning to crime ourselves.4 But being in the presence of criminals is not the only way our environment can affect our behaviors. Research reveals that simply living in poverty increases our likelihood of being incarcerated. When we’re having trouble making ends meet, we’re under intense stress and more likely to resort to crime.

Substance Abuse

There is no debate that criminal behavior and substance abuse are linked. Eighty-five percent of the American prison population have abused drugs or alcohol.5 Additionally, 63-83% of individuals who are arrested for most crimes test positive for illegal drugs at the time of their arrest.6 Some intoxicants, such as alcohol, lower our inhibitions, while others, such as cocaine, overexcite our nervous system. In all cases, the physiological and psychological changes caused by intoxicants negatively impact our self-control and decision-making. An altered state can lead directly to committing a criminal act. Additionally, those addicted to intoxicants may turn to crime to pay for their habit.

OK! this is just the start I will be adding to this page once a week. Please drop a note if you would to add your thoughts. Thanks


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