Pubdate: Thu, 23 Jul 2015
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2015 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Leonard Pitts, The Miami Herald


The United States does not have a justice system.

If we define a justice system as a system designed for the production 
of justice, then it seems obvious that term cannot reasonably be 
applied to a system that countenances the mass incarceration by race 
and class of hundreds of thousands of nonviolent offenders.

Any system that vacuums in one out of every three African-American 
males while letting a banker who launders money for 
terrorist-connected organizations, Mexican drug cartels and Russian 
mobsters off with a fine is not a justice system.

No, you call that an injustice system.

This is something I've been saying for years.

Imagine my surprise when, last week, President Obama said it, too. 
"Any system that allows us to turn a blind eye to hopelessness and 
despair," he said in a speech before the NAACP in Philadelphia, 
"that's not a justice system, that's an injustice system."

He called for reforms, including the reduction or elimination of 
mandatory minimum sentencing and the repeal of laws that bar 
ex-felons from voting.

This was the day after Obama commuted the sentences of 46 nonviolent 
drug offenders, and two days before he became the first president to 
visit a prison, Federal Correctional Institution El Reno, near Oklahoma City.

"There but for the grace of God," he said, minutes after poking his 
head into an empty 9 by 10 cell that houses three inmates.

It was more than just an acknowledgment of his personal good fortune. 
Given that Obama, his two immediate predecessors, and such disparate 
luminaries as Sarah Palin, John Kerry, Newt Gingrich, Al Gore, Jeb 
Bush and Rick Santorum are known to have used illicit drugs when they 
were younger, it was also a tacit acknowledgment that fate takes hairpin turns.

And that the veil separating drug offender from productive citizen is 
thinner than we sometimes like to admit.

Welcome to what may be a transformational moment: the end of an 
odious era of American jurisprudence. Meaning, the era of mass incarceration.

Apparently, the president has decided to make this a priority of his 
final 18 months in office. Even better, the call for reform enjoys 
bipartisan support.

Republican Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, among others, have embraced the cause.

And the very conservative Koch Brothers have chosen to "ban the box" 
(i.e., stop requiring ex-offenders to disclose their prison records 
to prospective employers on their job applications).

All of which raises the promise that, just maybe, something will 
actually be done. It is long past "about time." Our color-coded, 
class-conscious, zero-tolerance, punishment-centric, mandatory 
minimum system of "justice" has made us the largest jailer on earth.

One in four of the world's prisoners is in an American lockup. This 
insane rate of imprisonment has strained resources and decimated communities.

It has also shattered families and impoverished children, 
particularly black ones.

So many people bewail or condemn the fact that a disproportionate 
number of black children grow up without fathers, never connecting 
the dots to the fact that a disproportionate number of black fathers 
are locked up for the same nonviolent drug offenses for which white 
fathers routinely go free.

The "get tough on crime" wave that swept over this country in the 
'80s and '90s was born of the unfortunate American penchant for 
applying simplistic answers to complicated questions. But bumper 
sticker solutions have a way of bringing unintended consequences.

We will be dealing with these unintended consequences for generations 
to come. But perhaps we are finally ready to take steps toward 
reversing that historic blunder.

And giving America a justice system worthy of the name.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom