It is a widely accepted view that the US justice system is an unjust institution and does not achieve the goals it sets out, while treating people from different backgrounds differently. Only number of cases receive publicity and are often forgotten after a couple of days, and nevertheless there are statistics available that showcase the unfair treatment of criminals of certain ethnicities and socio-economic status. Furthermore, there is a dangerously high, although different to measure consistently, rate of recidivism that must be decreased.
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Injustice in the Criminal System
Review of the Criminal System
The criminal system in the US has historically had a negative reputation for the biased treatment of African Americans and other non-White individuals and groups. Furthermore, there has been historically little consideration for those of the lowest socio-economic classes. As many as 35 of US states beat Russia and Cuba in the imprisonment rate as the system readily convicts people, often wrongfully (Surprenant and Brennan). The system continuously fails underrepresented communities, making it clear that they are not prioritised in the decisions of the jury. One of the most prominent recent examples of such injustice is the case of Rittenhouse, an 18-year-old that shot three people, killing two, allegedly in self-defence. The white boy who brought a shotgun to a parking lot miles away from his hometown received considerably more attention and care from the system than, for example, “The Central Park 5.” The latter were five Black adolescents who did not receive the same amount of empathy as Rittenhouse when they were accused of aggravated assault.
Furthermore, there is elitism involved that stems from the rich defendants being able to afford more expensive lawyers, corrupt deals on the side, and so on. However, the injustices are not limited to the court room. Whoever is being tried is still likely to have a different experience depending on their status outside the prison. Firstly, there is the pre-trial “money bail” option for those that can afford it – and someone with a large amount of wealth is unlikely to spend their days in a jail cell (Costello). While the justice system has the goal of providing incentive for keeping to the laws, it appears that for the rich it merely means having to pay a fine and continuing to live by their own laws. Secondly, the internal bias of the juries and judges is likely to affect the verdict, depending on who is on the stand (Medina). By reverting to imprisonment in most cases the system reenforces the stereotypes and internal beliefs, creating a snowball effect.
What is Recidivism
Although there is often more emphasis put in the media on the initial sentencing of the criminal, recidivism is a serious issue that requires a lot more attention than it is given. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there is no unified definition of recidivism. Nevertheless, the common pattern is that for a person to be considered recidivated, they must be recommitted within a particular time window (“The Measures of Recidivism”). There are three steps to recidivism, namely starting event, subsequent arrest, and resultant recommitment, which must occur within a time window that begins at the starting event to be considered recidivism (“The Measures of Recidivism”). Although this can be a difficult statistic to measure, it is important to monitor the rates.
Since there is no unified definition of recidivism, the measured rates will vary, even for the same demographic. However, it is important to monitor such information both for the purpose of safety of the society and the constant efforts to reduce the rate. Risk assessment tools such as Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions (COMPAS) creates prediction models based on the millions of offenders in its database (Dressel and Farid). However, although race is not included as one of the data points in the system, studies appeared to show the system’s bias against Black defendants, predicting their reoffence probability as much too high (Dressel and Farid). Therefore, it is clear that more research and work must be put into the existing measuring and predicting systems.
Nevertheless, the authorities and activists have been putting consistent efforts into reducing recidivism. The Federal Bureau of Prisons considered tactics that included preparation from day one of incarceration, educational programs for the inmates, and encouraging marketable job skills (“Prison Reform: Reducing Recidivism by Strengthening the Federal Bureau of Prisons”). By creating a system of rehabilitation rather than entrapment for a period of time, prisons will be able to decrease the recidivism rates significantly. Although some crimes are likely to keep a person behind bars for the rest of their life, lesser instances such as theft are likely to see the person released within his or her lifetime. Investing into reinstating the former inmate in the society is likely to decrease the chance of them turning back to crime to make a living.
In conclusion, there is still a lot of work that must be done to ensure justice in the criminal system and reduction of recidivism. While it can be difficult to keep track of all factors, collecting statistics on the matter and measuring which tactics and strategies work and which do not is vital. There is a need for the justice system to reflect the values of equality as stated by the Constitution, and a need for clearer laws to be put in place to ensure that.
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Costello, Robert. “Usual Cruelty: The Complicity of Lawyers in the Criminal Injustice System.” Criminal Justice, vol. 35, no. 1, 2020, pp. 41-42. ProQuest.
Dressel, Julia and Hany Farid. “The Accuracy, Fairness, and Limits of Predicting Recidivism.” Science Advances, vol. 4, no. 1, 2018.
Medina, José. “Agential Epistemic Injustice and Collective Epistemic Resistance in the Criminal Justice System.” Social Epistemology, vol. 35, no. 2, 2021, pp. 185-196.
“Prison Reform: Reducing Recidivism by Strengthening the Federal Bureau of Prisons.” The United States Department of Justice Archives, 2017, Web.
Surprenant, Chris W., and Jason Brennan. Injustice for All. Taylor & Francis, 2019.
“The Measures of Recidivism.” Bureau of Justice Statistics, n.d., Web.