Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Broken Justice: The Lack of Conscience in Our Legal System

The drive for power and profit has replaced conscience across the broad spectrum of our society: from law to politics to critical industries such as banking, health care, and telecommunications. As we enter the 21st century, the ramifications of this pathological mindset are beginning to manifest; the prison industrial complex, one of its chief "accomplishments". This ever increasing appetite for imprisonment has positioned us as the world's largest jailer, with more than 7.3 million in jail, prison, parole or probation. We spend much more on incarcerating people than we do educating them.

On July 26, 2010, Laurence Tribe, Senior Counsel for the United States Department of Justice, Access to Justice Initiative, delivered a speech at the Annual Conference of Chief Justices. He challenged them to fix access to justice systemic deficiencies in order to halt the disintegration of our state justice systems before they become indistinguishable from courts of third world nations.

"Ours is supposed to be a system that levels the playing field by meting out justice without regard to wealth or class or race, a system that lives up to the promise emblazoned in marble on our Supreme Court, “EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW.” But as you know all too well, far too many of our citizens find instead a system in which the deck is stacked in favor of those who already have the most: in favor of the wealthy and against those already disadvantaged or victimized by the more powerful. There’s no reason to mince words: Not only the poor but members of the shrinking middle class find a system that is confusing, difficult to navigate, challenging to the point of inaccessibility for anybody who can’t afford the best lawyers, and ridiculously expensive for those in a position to pay the going rate.

Consider the Burger family in Michigan, a state that permits non-judicial foreclosure. The Burgers bought a four-bedroom bungalow in 1997 for just
under $39,000. In January 2009, they inadvertently sent a money order that was 7 cents short of what they owed, and they were late making February’s payment as well. They caught up by April, which was amazing considering that they lost their 10-month-old daughter in a household accident that same month. According to the family, the bank sought to foreclose anyway, giving them a choice: Pay $8,390 to reinstate the mortgage or lose their home. The Burgers didn’t have the money, couldn’t afford a lawyer, and given Michigan’s laws weren’t afforded any court intervention or oversight, so they lost the only house that their four living children, all 12 years old and younger, had ever known. -- Laurence Tribe
Links:

Color of Law: Please Don't Feed the Prison Monster.
The United States has decided to treat prisons as a growth industry. Prisons have become the new company town, in a nation where most of the factory jobs left long ago, casualties of globalization and the race to find the lowest worldwide labor costs. They are built in mostly rural White areas, and over the years these communities courted these prisons, whether state-operated or privatized, for the jobs they promised to bring to these depressed communities.

Every factory requires raw materials. The raw materials for the prison-as-factory are Blacks and Latinos, and poor Whites—uneducated, in many cases illiterate, and unskilled casualties of a system that has programmed their failure through a cradle-to-prison pipeline. The criminalization of youth of color, systemic poverty, failed public schools and the wholesale denial of opportunity is fundamental to this pipeline.

In order to ensure a steady stream of Black, Brown and poor White bodies, these raw materials, into the factory, you must maintain the right policies. So, in the Jim Crow segregated South, the powers that be decided to keep Blacks in their place and eviscerate their political power, to maintain a system of slavery after slavery had been supposedly abolished. Through the Black Codes, the Southern establishment criminalized certain behaviors that were associated with the Black community. Certain offenses such as “mischief,” “insulting gestures” “cruel treatment to animals,” and the “vending of spiritous or intoxicating liquors” applied only to African Americans. In addition, it was illegal for Blacks to cohabit with Whites (which carried a life sentence) or keep firearms. Kangaroo courts were utilized to fill the prisons with Black men, who were farmed out for their labor and summarily, forever, denied the right to vote.

1 comments:

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