Sunday, January 9, 2011

Do We Have a System Focused on Justice?

HARBESON: Where’s the justice?

Of all government institutions, courts and prisons are probably the ones most vehemently defended as necessary and proper government functions. This is because most people are led to believe that courts and prisons exist to administer justice.

But is this what happens in reality? Do we truly have a justice system, or is it merely another institution with the same problems as any other government monopoly?

A common problem of government monopolies is unchecked growth, and this has clearly happened in Indiana’s prison system. According to a study by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, and the Pew Center on the States, Indiana’s prison population rose by 41 percent over the past 10 years.

One of the reasons stated for this huge growth is that Indiana’s sentencing laws for drugs and theft “do not result in sentences that are proportionate to the severity of the crime.” As a matter of fact, “the average sentence for someone selling drugs in Indiana is nearly 50 percent longer than the average sentence for sexual assault.”

So Indiana’s laws are more focused on punishing those adults who engage in mutual voluntary transactions than the most heinous act that can be done to another person outside of murder.

Is this a system focused on justice?

Another sentencing problem noted in the report concerned property crime. According to the report, “Indiana state statute defines theft, regardless of the value of the stolen material, as a felony offense. In contrast, most states define theft below a certain amount as a misdemeanor.”

As a result, we end up paying to house people in prison for stealing relatively small amounts of money. This is particularly nonsensical considering a person sitting around in prison is doing nothing to provide restitution to the actual victim.

Is this justice?

It’s easy to see how the political process helped create these situations. Everyone has heard politicians huffing and puffing about getting “tough on crime.” Maybe some of you thought this would translate into forms of true justice, but all we have to show for it is an increased prison population with a lowered crime rate not even on par with neighboring states, which had much less increase in prison population.

Is this justice?

These harsh sentencing laws have resulted in more people spending more time in prison. More people in prison means more money is taken from innocent citizens to pay for their incarceration.

Is this justice?

What’s even more horrendous is that now, as a result of those past reforms, from politicians who ignored the ideas of justice, we now have to endure more political blather telling us that more reform is needed to fix the failures of their past reforms.

Is this justice?

If the politicians involved were focused on justice, they would never have created those sentencing laws. People focused on justice understand that drug laws themselves violate basic principles of individual freedom and justice because there is no victim. People focused on justice understand that theft does have a victim, but one who deserves restitution from the criminal, not the additional abuse from government of being forced to pay for the criminal’s housing.

Reforming disproportionate sentencing laws may be helpful now that politicians have already interfered so badly by closing off options. However, I’m afraid all that’s going to happen is that we’ll be forced to endure more of the same by a new breed of reformers, who still seem to be more focused on numbers and the collective rather than the individual.

But this is just proof that government monopolies are never a good idea, especially if you value justice.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson thinks she’s justified in valuing justice, just in case you care.

1 comment:

  1. The prison industrial complex is big business and makes select individuals, corporations, and the State a lot of money. No governmental "justice" system has ever been geared towards actual justice.