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dynamitemoth
dynamitemoth

Just binge watched “The Staircase” : It really shows how flawed the US justice system can be sometimes. Powerful stuff.

In reply to
Bruce
Bruce

@dynamitemoth "Sometimes"? 😰

dynamitemoth
dynamitemoth

@Bruce I sympathize with your sentiment, and agree that the justice system needs significant improvement if not a complete overhaul. That being said, I tend to believe that they get things right more often than not. It doesn’t excuse the (many) times when they’ve failed, but an honest assessment acknowledging both the successes and failures of our system seems like a good idea to me.

Bruce
Bruce

@dynamitemoth Given it's current state (something like over 90% of cases are settled via plea bargins instead of trails; prosecutors have absolute immunity; police have defacto total immunity; the prison system does a better job of creating gang members than rehabilitating people; mass incarceration; the drug war; the overuse of solitary confiment, which amounts to psychlogical torture; the proliferation of SWAT teams and their use in non-violent situations; the way bail can bankrupt even the innocent; etc), I sadly think that the system gets things wrong much more often than not. That's not to say it never gets things right, but the rot goes deep and its old. There is some change happening; I'm especially impressed with Larry Krasner in Philadelphia. But there is a long, long way to a just system.

dynamitemoth
dynamitemoth

@Bruce Yes, too many cases end up as plea deals instead of going to trial. But I suspect that many of those pleas are from people who are actually guilty of crimes and who just happen to plea to a lesser crime. Not every plea deal, perhaps very few of them, correspond to actual injustice.

I agree that prosecutors and the police have too much immunity, and that they are not held adequately accountable for their mistakes or their corruption. But I tend to believe that those problems affect a only minority of the cases they deal with.

I agree that the prison system does a poor job of rehabilitation. But rehabilitation isn’t the only job of the prison system, and it isn’t necessarily their most important job. Opinions may vary on the importance of rehabilitation vs. punishment vs. protection of the public, but surely we can agree that judging prisons strictly on their rehabilitation record misses out on other aspects that many in society find important.

I agree with most of your other points, and I definitely agree that we are a long way from where we need to be.

But I believe that the majority of people working in law enforcement, criminal justice, and in related fields are doing the best work they can with the best of intentions. I believe it is unfair to look past the good work they do to only focus on their failures.

Bruce
Bruce

@dynamitemoth I started to reply and ended up writing a blog post. There are a ton of links in it; I've been paying attention to the carceral state for a long time. Good people with the best of intentions can be stuck in massively flawed systems and, for many reasons, have a hard time seeing or changing the problems.

Bruce
Bruce

@dynamitemoth I thought up a less charged parallel and wrote another post about it. US healthcare is another system that has massive problems even though it has good people.

dynamitemoth
dynamitemoth

A Retort

@Bruce You seem to be misunderstanding my position in your responses. You are arguing against a position that I do not hold. As I have stated, I agree that the system is flawed in many ways and in need of serious reform. I am in no way “shifting attention from the massive injustice of the system by pointing out there are good people in it”, and I am certainly not espousing a position that is akin to the white moderates lamented by Dr. King.

I only mention the many good people and their good intentions in the context of what I believe is your unfair characterization of the system as being all bad. I raised the point because I believe it is unfair to ignore the successes and only focus on the failures when assessing the state of the criminal justice system. I don't say this to save feelings or to focus on the concerns of those people at the expense of the real victims of the system's failures. I say this because, in my experience, the best way to fix complex problems is always to begin with an honest assessment of the system, both the good and the bad.

If you want to reform the system, you of course need reformers at the top. But in most cases that is not enough. You also need support from the rank and file. You need those good people with good intentions to be helping you reform. And while those good people can generally handle hearing about the things they've been doing wrong, if that is all they hear with no honest acknowledgement of what they are doing well, then those people will tend to get defensive. They will resist. They will drag their feet rather than supporting reform. They will become barriers to reform rather than champions of reform.

I also support what Krasner has been doing, but I fear that his aggressive approach to reform could end in long-term failure. He is likely making a lot of enemies in the DA’s office as well as in the police force. Those enemies could make it difficult for his reforms to stick. I would love to be proven wrong on this, but I am somewhat jaded by what has happened in my home town of Minneapolis. If you haven't followed it, Betsy Hodges was elected mayor based largely on her track record of fighting for police reform. After 4 years of fighting between the police force and the mayor's office, she lost her reelection bid and left office without making any significant reforms.

Bruce
Bruce

@dynamitemoth You've said: "I tend to believe they get things right more often than not." "But I tend to believe that those problems (police & prosecutorial immunity) affect only a minority of the cases they deal with." "But I suspect that many of those pleas are from people who are actually guilty of crimes…"

In my honest opinion, there is more broken with our justice system than there is that works. I believe a system in which 97% of defendants don't get jury trials sends plenty of innocent people to prison. I believe police have plenty of bad incentives that lead to over aggressive policing and closing cases quickly instead of correctly. I believe that DAs need to show voters that they are "Tough on Crime" and therefore prioritize wining cases over justice.

Even when the convicted are guilty the way they are treated is often immoral and counterproductive.

None of the people in the system need to be evil for all that to be true. But the system is massively broken. It inflicts tremendous violence, both physical and psychological, on everyone involved. Including police officers and prison guards.

Frankly I am at a loss on how to get the rank and file on board. Maybe send them all to Scandinavia to observe how they do it? But focusing on people's intentions rather than changing their incentives does not seem like the place to start. And I really do think that the honest truth is those incentives have created a monstrosity and parody of justice.

Maybe we'll just have to disagree on that.

hjertnes
hjertnes

@Bruce I'm probably going to regret jumping into this. But I think the big difference between the US and Scandinavia is that prisons are not a institution for punishing people, but rather to rehabilitate them, and prepare them for becoming productive members of society.

Bruce
Bruce

@hjertnes Oh certainly. But visiting their prisons convinced the woman who ran the state prison system in North Dakota to make significant changes. And that slowly trickled down to the rank and file. If it can work in a deep red state, maybe it can work elsewhere?

hjertnes
hjertnes

@Bruce As long as everyone agree that the number one goal is to make sure that as many people as possible are productive members of society(aka pays taxes).

What does it take? Access to medical care, mental care, education, counselling and what ever they might need to get there. Plus cells that don't look like they are from the Game of Thrones.

Bruce
Bruce

@hjertnes I don't even know if we need to get everyone to agree on that to start changing things. Our current system ends up producing more crime. If we can get more people in the system to realize that, I'd like to think that many would chose less crime over punishment.

Bruce
Bruce

@hjertnes Also, the article is a hopeful read. The cells remained like Game of Thrones. But they ended long term solitary, increased mental health resources, let prisons build a sweat lodge.

hjertnes
hjertnes

@Bruce This is kind of like health care, you can save a lot of money in the long term by spending more now.

A good place to start might be to talk about why we have jails and what the purpose of them are.

dynamitemoth
dynamitemoth

@Bruce Believe it or not, I think we agree on virtually every point you've brought up. I think the primary difference between our opinions is simply about the pervasiveness of the problem.

In the end, whether the system fails us 95% of the time (as you probably suspect) or it fails us more like 20-30% of the time (as I suspect), I think we can agree that it still fails us way too often, and that we should be supporting leaders who seek to fix these problems.

I don't know what the solution is. I am skeptical of the aggressive leadership style that comes in with a "cleaning house" attitude, but perhaps it can work in some situations. I do know that aggressive demands for reform have NOT worked in my hometown of Minneapolis. Betsy Hodges came in as mayor on promises to aggressively police the police force. For all her good ideas, she spent 4 years fighting with the police and got nothing done. Now she's sitting at home after losing her re-election bid, and things have only gotten worse.

Perhaps others will have more success where she failed. I will continue to support any leader who is pushing for reform in these areas, with a bias towards those who actually achieve results rather than just talking up a storm.

Bruce
Bruce

@dynamitemoth I think we may also disagree on the urgency of change.

You are right that we need to work on getting buy in from the rank and file. But even if you're correct and the system only fails 20% of the time, that's thousands of innocent people suffering. They shouldn't have to wait for justice because it's hard to get the rank and file on board.

Also, there will be times when it is simply not possible to convince them. If we reduce the incarceration rate to triple the European average, the majority of prison guards will lose their jobs. They are going to fight hard as hell to keep their livelihood.

Or an example from Pennsylvania: if a former prosecutor turned Republican State Senator, multiple rigorous studies, and participating in a five year commission couldn't convince the DAs to accept reform, the hill is a pretty steep climb. How many people suffered unjustly while we were trying to persuade them?

So, at the same time we work within the system, we must also, as Dr. King said, bring the tensions to the surface. We need to convince a mass movement to put pressure on government to accelerate change. To forcibly alter the perverse incentives.

The Civil Rights movement didn't spend time convincing White America to support inter-racial marriage; they pushed Loving vs. Virginia through the courts. It wasn't until 1994 that more than half of America supported that decision.

The Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis spent over a decade trying to convince society that LGBT+ folk should be accepted. They barely made any progress. Police still regularly persecuted them. Change only began accelerating when they stopped trying to convince the police and rioted.

You may find these provocative comparisons, but I really do believe even a 20% failure rate is a serious crisis, worthy of aggressive tactics. The system's victims cannot wait.

dynamitemoth
dynamitemoth

@Bruce Don't mistake my desire to work with the rank and file as a lack of urgency. I agree 100% that we can't wait until everyone is comfortable with reform, and that we need to push for reforms now. I just think you and I would go about that reform in different ways.

Bruce
Bruce

@dynamitemoth That's fair. I think change needs both of our approaches.

Bruce
Bruce

@dynamitemoth Also, with everything going on, my mind has been in a rally people to assault the Bastille kind of place.

dynamitemoth
dynamitemoth

@Bruce I'm with you on that one: We could use an American equivalent of storming the Bastille right now.