Reading George Fox

The Carceral State and Good People

@dynamitemoth They have the best of intentions, but it’s within a very flawed system.

The reason that plea deals are used so much is prosectorial discretion: they’ll threaten to charge with more serious counts adding up to an incredible amount of years. It then only makes sense not to risk a trial. It’s also hard to believe that 97% of all cases involve a guilty defendent; that would require nigh infallible police and prosecutors. Also, here’s an explanation of how a federal guilty plea works and the absurdity it can become. Prosecutors are also loathe1 to provide evidence of innocence. There’s a ton of pressure of prosecutors to win cases, so they’ll even block the release of clearly innocent people. Expert witnesses and forensic experts are often relied on again and again even without evidence that the science has any basis in fact.

There are a ton of incentives for detectives to quickly close cases, so they often settle on the first or second suspect. Police are taught to be overly defensive and often escalate situations. Once a department gets a SWAT team, they find reasons to use it. Military supplies and civil forfeiture create perverse incentives to play with the toys and to justify the seizure of money to fund departments. Plus, civil forfeiture cases are charged against one’s property, so even if the initial charges are dropped one may have to fight to get the money back.

Here’s a book about police militarization. The Pentagon gives millions of dollars of surplus equipment to the police every year. Equipment used in war zones.

Defense attorneys are regarded as problems to be worked around. Public defenders are overworked and underpayed.

God help you if you get convicted2 of a sex crime even if it’s for pantsing a classmate when you were 10. Even if the sex offenders have committed dangerous crimes, forcing them to live under bridges probably makes it more likely that they’ll reoffend because what is there to lose? At least in prison one lives indoors.

Then there’s the hell of reporting a sex crime.

Cops might basically rape a person if they suspect that they are a drug mule.

It can take decades to hold rogue cops accountable—of torture.

Even if the purpose of prison is not to rehabilitate, keeping inmates in solitary for decades is torture. Pushing inmates into gangs for their very survival is not a positive outcome for public safety. Our prisons are creating gang members. Prison rape is an atrocity. The system is even traumatic for the guards.

Police are allowed to lie, but if a person makes a mistake during interrogation, they can charge the person with lying to them. Even if they were innocent of the crime the police were investigating. (Never ever, ever talk to law enforcement without a lawyer).

Juvenile courts give tremendous discretion to judges and can end up ruining kids lives. Even when the judges are trying to help.

Police officers in schools help keep students safe, while at the same time turning discipline into a legal matter. Instead of getting detention, students get arrested.

There are good people in the criminal justice system who try to do good work. However, the system is fundamentally broken: providing the wrong incentives and numbing people to the violence it inflicts. I believe shifting our attention from the massive injustice of the system by pointing out there are good people in it is akin to being the white moderate. It’s trying to balance the feelings of police and prosecutors and prison staff against the suffering of those ground up by the system, whether they be innocent or guilty. Change is desperately needed and it’s going to take a massive effort. That must be the focus.

  1. Krasner is doing an amazing job, but this article still demonstrates the depth of the problem. 
  2. Thankfully, this particular absurdity has been fixed; it took years of determined fighting. Even after the law was changed, they had to keep fighting to vacate the pre-existing convictions. 
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