I have seen two vastly different examples of American justice in the last few months.
Example 1 – Five months ago it was discovered that an elected official in our county has been stealing funds from us for the last ten years. Since that time she has been free to do whatever she want while the evidence has been gathered. It seems that over the last ten years she has stolen about $400,000 in our very small county mainly by charging totally personal things like food, vacations, TVs to a county credit card. She was finally indicted this week and the trial is to take place in about four months. During that time she is again free to do whatever she wants as she was released on her “own recognizance” meaning no bail
Example 2 – is a person in a large metropolitan area that was roaming the city inebriated. He was quickly gathered up and brought before a judge and was set for a trial in the same four months as the first example. The difference is this person is spending the time before trial in a local jail. He has lost his job and what remains of his contact with his family. His life is basically ruined. Why?? The reason is the judge set a ball on him that required him to come up with $200 out of his pocket. Being unable to do that he languishes in prison with his life ruined because he drank too much one lonely night.
I hope I don’t have to explain to you just how unjust the treatment is between these two cases!! But, I have learned that they are by no means unusual. The well-known, even at the local level often get “OR’ed” while the poor get jail time before they even go to trial. It is a well know fact that the first exposure to our prison system often taints the person for a lifetime of incarceration.
I am certainly celebrating that recent similar events that have gone national are now showing just how unjust our justice system has become in the last thirty years or so. When Reagan decided that the “bad guys” had to be put in jail to protect us, all the wheels were set in motion for today’s version of justice. When our prison system became “privatized” as he insisted and found to be very profitable it grew almost exponentially such that these private jailers scream for more and more occupants and the judges are certainly giving them what they want.
Our fear, which seems to become endemic during this period now insists that we lock up even those who even “might” do us harm and that includes people who we fear for some very unjustifiable reasons. They are dirty so lets remove them from society by making it against the law to be homeless. They do damage to themselves so lets lock them up in case they might want to do damage to us. Our fear has driven us to be the number one country in the world to lock up our citizens.
The inequality in our current justice system simply reeks of injustice and it is about time that we recognized that fact and quit being so fearful of those who will never do harm to anyone besides themselves. It is time to have some compassion for those who might not be like us. It is time we live up to the last words of our Pledge of Allegiance.