Criminal Justice Reform

Our Criminal Justice System needs to be reformed starting from the bottom up. Police officers, for example, are the first ones that work as “gatekeepers” of the system. They have a history of misuse of their discretionary powers but as of today there are still stories of misuse being published by the news. Then we have lawyers who continually misuse the plea bargain and Judges who are constantly driven by their own biases rather than seeking the possible restitution. We need a better system.

The PBS documentary The Plea explains the common mistakes that are being committed by our system. There is a case of a single mother that was arrested, along with others, in a police raid. It was conducted in a building believed to be a drug lab. The mother was offered a plea bargain in which she would be freed on that same day of the incident. The catch was that she had to plead guilty and stay in probation for many months. She maintained her innocence but as a single mother and with no one to watch for her children, she decided to plea guilty.

She did not get proper advice, as her constitutional rights provide, and was rushed into making a decision. She became a “convicted felon” and therefore lost all her state benefits such as food stamps. If this was not enough, she now had “probationary fees” to pay. Eventually the court found too many rights violations by the police that the prosecutors decided to drop all the charges of the people detained. Unfortunately for those who had already pleaded guilty, they continued with their charges.

There are few more examples in the documentary but there are a lot more untold stories like this one. The Criminal Justice System needs to refocus its purpose with society. They are supposed to bring justice but to whom, the victims, the community, their political affiliations, the city/state? The problem right now is that justice is being served for those who have money versus the ones who have not. Justice is being served to those who can afford a private lawyer rather than an appointed one.

Justice is being served with those who had a normal life versus those who lived in foster homes or under the supervision of the state. Our society, in the form of non-profit organizations, needs to get more involved with our Criminal Justice System. There are many “criminals” today that could have been stopped at an early age had the resources being available to the courts. Those resources are available to private companies and especially non-profit organization such as churches.

How our Criminal Justice operates depends a lot on the demands of the people. We demand more action against criminals, longer sentences, harsher punishments, and we expect the government to pay for it. Society cannot expect the government to spend more money in the criminal Justice system. In many counties it already takes the second, if not the first, major portion of their budget. We need to step in and out of our comfort zone to help “criminals.” It is only then when we will truly have a reformed Criminal Justice System.