I’ve been involved with the legal system in some way since I was a kid. First was my education in the nuts and bolts of what made it tick. In the ninth grade, I enrolled in an ordinarily post-high school correspondence program offering a diploma in Paralegal studies or something like that. By the twelfth grade, I was learning of debtor law working in our family business… repossessing cars.
Criminal law and law enforcement were part of my curriculum, too… In my early twenties, after basically running out of money, I joined the Army and completed Military Police School. I later ended up founding and selling a surety bail bond agency – at a time when the bail market was shrinking. Civil law was covered when I founded a successful licensed private investigative agency. Domestic law was in there, too, only vicariously through close family. But let’s not forget campaign law, I spent three months knocking on doors running for political office in Cleveland… won in every precinct I walked and knocked (but I was only able to knock on about 33k doors, out of 380k in the city)! My point is, while not an attorney, and I have no fancy education or designations, I’ve been around the block a few times and I see how things seem to work.
I once lived in an eclectic urban-renewal type area of a major city, for about 15 years. In my beloved Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio. We were about 1 mile from downtown Cleveland, where the Cleveland Indians play at Jacobs Field (sorry, I’ll always call it that, it’s next to the Gund Arena.) The sort of neighborhood where terms like gentrification, smash and grab, carjacking, and robbery were commonplace. A neighborhood of about 10,000 people, I began attending our monthly block club group for a few years. There were maybe 800 people in each block club, and maybe 10 or 15 people each month would attend.
After a few more years, I joined the neighborhood safety committee where we mashed up terms like collaboration, master plan, quality of life, and met with the Cleveland Police Community Relations officers. We were constantly rehashing what to do with so and so robber, organizing court watch where we’d all go pack the courtroom during trial or sentencing (worked especially well when Judge’s were up for re-election) or making our latest security camera plan (which would inevitably be hijacked by a funders ‘brother-in-law’). It was a fine line between busy body and trying to keep the next carjacking from happening, and I think we helped.
It’s not rocket science…
But in all my ancillary experience with our legal and criminal justice system, something struck me strange: 95% of the crime seemed to be coming from the same people, over and over and over and over again. Literally. Sometimes we’d have a rapist who had twenty or more prior convictions for violent crimes. Yet, he was still able to continue terrorizing our community. Something wasn’t working. Something didn’t seem to connect, and I thought I could fix something. hahaha.
It’s all politics.
During my run for political office, which I assure you was more eye-opening then being in a Judge’s chambers while they negotiate settlement terms of a divorce, I had many discouraging encounters with City Council members and other bureaucrats. (Most of the stereotypes of worthless public servants seemed to be true.) At the time, the police department had trouble locating defendants we posted bond for, and also, they were letting some defendants who shouldn’t have been released at all… where they proceed to shoot their ex-girlfriend’s faces off.
During my campaign, I asked a councilman a simple question, in private. I asked him if he thought the police department should be able to manage their vast jail operations well enough that defendants who should be released were released, and criminals who should be locked up should stay there. He smirked with his stupid face and said something like “we like it just how it is” and went on to explain that’s how it works: they get re-elected by having problems and being able to fix them… Aunt Betsey can call him, and he can help locate her nephew in jail and get him released. This is how it works, from the tiniest, lowliest position, all the way up the President. And it has nothing to do with public safety. Definitely a disconnect from what I thought our politicians, law enforcement, criminal justice and penal systems were all about.
Escaping city life.
We eventually moved away from Cleveland. We now live in a much more rural area. Things seem less out of control here, but there’s also lots of the same-old-thing: repeat, violent offenders terrorizing our communities. It’s a common thread anywhere I go. We just don’t see it much here, because, well, we’re more dispersed and there is no block club or safety committee or central place to go bellyaching to… it’s conveniently decentralized and unorganized.
From my perspective: how to make criminal justice about public safety again.
Turn back the ramp-up and criminalization of American society in general.
We don’t need so many criminal statutes, rules, laws to keep us ‘safe’. So many of our laws keep the government safe, or the public safe ‘as a whole’, according to the theories, beliefs and moral standards of those creating the laws, not the people. And unfortunately, whatever it is they’re outlawing isn’t making America a safer place to live. That fact can be demonstrated by published crime and economic statistics. All these fancy new intricate laws, seemingly do little more than complicating things. Politicians and bureaucrats have been criminalizing everyone but themselves for a long time now. We need fewer laws, not more, and we need more enforcement of the laws already on the books. Especially the vilest of repeat violent offenders, who I guess are responsible for the majority of crime. We need to shrink jail populations, close jails, and prisons. Turn them over to state health departments, renovate and convert them into mental health facilities that were tragically eradicated in the 1960s.
Decriminalize victimless crimes.
Yes, there is always a victim, even if it’s society in general. But throwing someone in the clink to protect society from a crime that never directly affected them doesn’t fix the problem. And it does little to rehabilitate the offender. If anything, it hardens them – which, by the way, adds more of the delicious recidivism that allows more expansion of their criminal justice system.
Proponents like to misleadingly associate victimless with violent crime, for instance: drugs always lead to robbery. Well, when it becomes something worse, then address that crime. But trying to link the two is non-sense. Spend more of time looking for real criminals, THAT will make the public safer. Maybe people wouldn’t be able to hide women and children in their basements for decades, or chained up on their farm in storage containers. (Ohh, unless it’s just that there aren’t enough real crimes with actual victims to keep your systems full of defendants, then, by all means, expand your reach, right?)
Non-jail diversion for most all non-violent criminals.
Germany would be a great penal system to look at. I saw a news story on 60-minutes a few years ago, This is prison? 60 Minutes goes to Germany: Germany’s prison system keeps convicts comfortable, costs less and has lower recidivism rates, but would Americans ever accept it? In reality, we should be asking if our ever so smart politicians would accept it, not Americans. Those are most definitely two different things. They described the German penal system and how they treated people like, well, people, with caring compassion. To me, it seems German prisons look more like mental health facilities or group homes. Their intent seems to really be about rehabilitating, and their recidivism rate shows it.
Permanent internment of repeat, violent offenders.
But being a lot more nice to most ‘criminals’ is only half the battle. We also need to be more strict to repeat violent offenders. There are two key terms there: repeat and violent. We already have laws on the books. Federal Prosecutors could charge these repeat killers, rapists, child molesters, and other horrible violent criminals with domestic terrorism. They could be deemed enemy combatants and whisked off to Guantanamo Bay, Estonia, or where-ever we’re ‘rendering’ terrorists these days. Send them away and never release them. That will eliminate most of our violent crime since the same people seem to repeat it over and over. It would end real quick if they knew permanent internment was what happened. And by executing the plan, it would literally end the problem. REMEMBER: Every repeat violent criminals next chance comes at their next victim’s expense.
I’m no expert.
As I’ve mentioned, I do not hold any accreditation or background or ivy league education. These are only my subjective opinions based on personal experiences. But it would seem that figuring out a better way to deal with repeat, violent offenders should be the first thing we contemplate. That would make our communities safer and improve the quality of life for everyone.