Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Law and Order: Hamtramck

Tonio Dace, the 21 year old man responsible for the kidnapping mayhem that took place during the Metro Times Blowout in Hamtramck this past March, has been sentenced to 15 to 45 years in prison.

I would love to feel that "justice is served!" feeling, but instead I am left with a "this is as close to justice as we're gonna get, so I guess I'll take it" feeling. It's a frustration with society and the criminal justice system as a whole, not with this case specifically. To be sure, I believe that Dace should be put away for a long time. But by locking him up, he doesn't disappear. Even if we want to think he and the over 2 million other Americans behind bars are invisible and not our concern.

When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said,"the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice," I think he meant a more "capital J" version of the word, not what passes for "justice" in our current judicial system. Crime brings out our most visceral emotions. It makes us feel indignant, afraid, angry and anxious. But when we use those same emotions to shape our punitive measures, we don't end up with "capital J" Justice: We end up with the highest incarceration rate in the world, deplorable conditions, the death penalty, systematic racial and economic disparity, and a recidivism rate so high we may as well put revolving doors on our jails and prisons.

The term "Department of Corrections" has lost all relevant meaning. We've privatized our prisons and slashed virtually any aspect of this quaint notion of "correcting" from our prison system. We want to see criminals "pay" for their crimes, and affording them any opportunity at rehabilitation strikes us as counterintuitive to punishment. Jobs programs? Continuing education? A library? The public response is often,"No! Let them rot." The problem of course, is they do rot. And soon they'll be out on the streets in your neighborhood again. With new skills - skills they've acquired, not through any kind of job training program, but from other more seasoned criminals. Now they're your neighbor and even more rotten than before. This doesn't even feel like "small j" justice to me. It feels like a giant sham and a dangerously broken system.

So yes, I want to experience that "justice is served" feeling. But I feel like we have a long, long way to go before that's really possible.

Update 7/2: ProPublica put together a great list of investigative reporting on U.S. prisons. Read some of this stuff.

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