Justice for Whom?
IN THEORY, the criminal justice system is designed to protect the law-abiding citizens and to keep crime and the criminals under control. In reality, however, the system in America today “provides massive safeguards for accused persons . . . yet fails to provide elementary protection for its law-abiding citizens,” said U.S. Supreme Court Justice Warren E. Burger in a speech to the American Bar Association. Why did he say that? What are the facts? Consider, as an example, the situation in New York.
On the Streets Based on police statistics on felonies or major crimes in 1979, a report in the New York Post indicates that in Manhattan “peaceable persons have one chance in seven of becoming victims of aggressive persons who risk one chance in six of being arrested.” So the increase of crime and the inefficiency of the criminal justice system are approaching “that perfect balance where it is no more dangerous to be a criminal than to be a law-abiding citizen,” says the report. But, does even the one criminal out of every six who is arrested really face any danger?
In the Courts “Ninety-nine of every 100 persons arrested on felony charges in New York City never go to prison,” says a New York Times report, “and more than 80 are not even prosecuted as felons.” The blame is being placed on inadequate personnel and facilities. “Because we can only try that limited, limited number of cases, we are forced to do things all along the system that I don’t think anybody is comfortable with,” said the mayor’s criminal justice coordinator, Robert Keating. The “things” done included dismissing or letting off as minor crimes about 80 percent of the felony cases. So whose interests are being served?
In the Prison Even sending the one in every 100 to prison does little good for the victim. Why? First of all, it costs the victim, the taxpayer, plenty to keep the criminal in prison—$10,000 to $30,000 per inmate per year. And, because most prisons are running out of space, the balance sheet shows, for example, that in 1979 in New York State, “9507 convicts were committed and 8802 were released, not so much because they were redeemed as because their custodians needed their rooms,” says the Post report. The result? Criminals are back on the streets without anyone’s having assurance that they will not repeat their crime. The cycle starts all over again.
The reason for this vicious cycle is clearly pointed out by the Bible at Ecclesiastes 8:11: “Because sentence against a bad work has not been executed speedily, that is why the heart of the sons of men has become fully set in them to do bad.” Speaking about the fight against “double-digit crime inflation,” Chief Justice Burger pointed out that “deterrence means speedy action by society,” but lamented that what we have is “an impotent society.” How comforting it is to know from the Bible that even though “evildoers” proliferate now, it will be “just a little while longer, and the wicked one will be no more,” because God himself will act to clean lawless ones out of the earth!—Psalm 37:1, 2, 10.
[Pictures on page 19]
ONE CHANCE IN SEVEN OF BECOMING A VICTIM
ONE CHANCE IN SIX OF BEING ARRESTED