Monday, November 23, 2009


For years I have believed our justice system is a mess - not because lawbreakers go free.

The purpose of the American justice system, as I understand it, is three fold, first to properly identify lawbreakers, secondly to ensure restitution and last reform lawbreakers into law-abiding citizens.

None of the three missions fails more miserably than the last. Rather than working toward reformation of law breaking behavior the penal system punishes (or attempts) to punish the inmates by locking them away and perhaps a stiff fine. Punishment does not deter undesired behavior.

Gang members view jail and prison time as a right of passage and flaunt their time with tattoos designed to advertise to others the time they have served. Time served in the legal system strongly reinforces the 'us them' mentality of both lawbreakers and law-abiding citizens. Lawbreakers believe strongly in a conspiracy against themselves and believe all citizens value law breaking and further believe those in the mainstream society are some how able to avoid jail time due to their ability to avoid being caught.

Precious little is done to assess lawbreakers for mental illness, teach life skills or career skills and actually reform their behaviors.

Psychology has found positive reinforcement to be stronger than aversion treatment (aversion treatment is providing a negative experience for unwanted behavior) yet politicians and special interest groups continue to push for longer prison terms and, even more appalling, to punish youth as adults. Statistically these harsher punishments have not been found to deter future crime by the offender nor others.

These flaws in our justice system are the tip of the iceberg; the innocent are convicted and the guilty go free, organized crime continues with little control from law enforcement etc. I don't expect a perfect justice system but I do expect the penal and justice systems to be held to the same standards demanded in science.

Let the public demand our justice system reform rather than punish law breakers. Let us demand the techniques used for reform be scientifically sound rather than emotionally and politically driven.

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