Unequal Under The Law. Steve Williamson, Hava Derby and Gary LaMaster continue the discussion on criminal justice reform. To begin the conversation, they note that the U.S. incarcerates more people than any other nation – 2.1 million as of 2018. Lest you think that’s an aberration based on population, the U.S. also incarcerates a higher percentage of its citizens than any other nation – 639 per 100,000. And these numbers don’t even take into account the thousands of refugees and immigrants now languishing in detention centers.
Hava explains that many of those incarcerated have never been convicted of a crime because many of those living in poverty can’t afford legal representation. So, they too often accept plea bargains to ensure that they don’t risk more severe sentences, even if they are innocent.
The conversation then turns to racial disparities in policing, noting that people of color are punished more severely for the same offenses as whites. And that the disparities begin as early as pre-school.
To solve the inequities, we must address systemic racism and reimagine the entire system from top to bottom: Better leadership for law enforcement, higher standards for hiring officers, better training, relieving police from responding to incidents involving mental illness or addiction, reducing easy access to guns, better legal representation for the poor, more court personnel to relieve case backlogs, a new focus on rehabilitating prisoners, an increased focus on finding off ramps for young people who get caught up in the criminal justice system, and more.
The system is broken. And it will take many years of effort to fix it.