Justice, or a lack there of

In 222 years, we have not managed to “establish Justice” for the whole of the United States of America. The roots of this problem include things as harsh as racial prejudice and gender discrimination or as insidious as updating definitions and arguing over comma placement.

Drug laws and mandatory sentencing are racist. Family courts are biased against men. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is only the most publicized law marginalizing people for their sexual or gender identity. We are not all treated equally by the law, and even when we are, it isn’t always right.

I live in Texas; we kill people here. We, the people of Texas, kill people when we think their lives have less value than the damage their crimes have caused. Now, I’m not upset that we kill people. Some studies show it does deter other criminals, a little, and there is logic in refusing to buy lunch for a life-time inmate when we have no expectation (or intention) of rehabilitation. If it were less trouble to kill them than to care for them, I might even support the effort. But it isn’t. It costs more, in most cases, to run through the trials and appeals. Legal professionals are tied up in court and law enforcement officers protect the convicted in transport. It means prisoners’  families have every reason to be bitter towards society. Oh, and more importantly, there are times when we are wrong. Far too often we have killed people who didn’t cause the damages we thought were so horrid.

Let’s look at “sex crimes” as another modern example: Our current system creates life sentences for crimes ranging from rape and child molestation to raging hormones. There are people who will be monitored for life on “watch lists”. They are no longer in prison, or even on parole, but on lists which mean that even when their sentences are over, these people are criminals who can’t live in peace. If they pose a threat, why are they released? If they are not, then why are we “watching” them? Sadly, we find ourselves watching many who were never a danger to anyone. A 17 year old boy has a relationship with a girl two years younger, and when her parents finally figure it out, they press charges; bad parenting and teenaged biology have just branded this boy a sexual predator for life.

We need a better Justice system. We have better tools and more options, but the system is rooted too heavily in the rules of the past. It takes too long for new technologies to be accepted, and too many older technologies are taken for granted. Fingerprints and DNA are relatively misunderstood. Witnesses are almost always given too much credibility and a stack of poorly collected, circumstantial evidence can ruin a life. We owe it to “our posterity” to put some work into this and make the system work better for everyone.

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