Pubdate: Tue, 08 Jan 2013
Source: Albany Herald, The (GA)
Copyright: 2013 The Albany Herald Publishing Company, Inc.
Author: Carlton Fletcher


Just as every cop is a criminal, and all the sinners saints.

- - The Rolling Stones

One of my favorite lines by late comedian Richard Pryor: "I go down to 
the courthouse looking for justice, and that's what I see: Just us."

The great comedian's one-liner certainly tickled plenty of funny bones
in its day, but it also serves as a telling commentary on perhaps the
most broken element of this country's foundation: our criminal justice

Pryor's observation notwithstanding, the devolution of the American
justice system, circa 2013, has less to do with race, more to do with
dollar bills. Forget the biblical admonition about the difficulty
wealthy people face as they seek heaven. Heaven's a much more likely
locale for the wealthy than the inside of a prison.

The perversion that passes for justice in this country is the
byproduct of a corrupt government whose motivation is less the greater
good, more the number of zeroes on the contribution checks. Left to
contend with the fallout are judges and law enforcement agencies whose
efforts at reform are thwarted by a system that rewards some of its
most notorious criminals simply for their impressive bank accounts.

The nation's judges are asked to find creative ways to punish
offenders without overcrowding the penal system, which is full to
overflowing mostly because of an antiquated "war on drugs" whose
surrender should have come several decades ago. In their efforts to
meet the dictates of numbers crunchers in the seats of power, the
jurists find themselves faced with sentencing schedules that do more
to perpetuate recidivism than to eliminate it.

The ever-thinner blue line out on the streets, meanwhile, sees the
fruits of some of its best investigative and enforcement efforts
negated by sentences that must leave officers wondering just what it
means for them to put their lives on the line.

Case in point: An offender captured by Albany officers recently was
booked into the Dougherty County Jail on a laundry list of charges
worthy of a place of honor on a post office wall. A check - and
subsequent double-check - of the offender's bail availability on the
jail's automated system showed that the suspect was being held in lieu
of a surprisingly small sum of money, an amount, in fact, that's about
equivalent to the chump change many criminals facing such charges
carry around loose in their khakis.

(Jail Director Col. John Ostrander informed me Tuesday that a glitch
in the jail's automated system showed a "0" amount for people booked
on unbondable offenses. When suspects facing multiple charges are
booked, bond amounts for less serious crimes were being added to the
zeroes, implying that such inmates could be released on a low bond.
Ostrander said he's already gotten with the system's vendor, which has
rewritten code to account for the misinformation.)

As citizens become aware of criminal activity in their community,
their natural inclination is to point fingers. Many of them make law
enforcement their scapegoat, wondering why the cops can't manage to
keep the bad guys off the streets. Others - including many who wear
badges and carry guns - say the fault lies with judges whose lenient
sentences put hardened criminals back on the streets before the ink on
arrest reports has even dried.

The only answer that truly makes sense, though, is reform, drastic
reform. A good start would be the decriminalization of marijuana,
which if implemented retroactively would instantly take care of the
overcrowding of the penal system. The next step would be to hold
citizens to a set of legal standards that applies across the board,
from those on the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder to the
criminals who wear $5,000 suits and hold the keys to the nation's
largest bank vaults.

Unleash the judges and let them hand out sentences that fit the
crimes, not the social register. Reward law enforcement officers for
their efforts by showing them that their work is not in vain, that the
bad guys they caught will spend time behind bars.

Then, and only then, will the concept of "crime does not pay" be more
than the punchline for a sad joke.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt