Thursday, January 09, 2014


It's an unfortunate aspect of the American Criminal Justice System that the vast majority of judges have spent no time in jail. A little jail would do most of them good. Not only would some time in the slammer help them understand what incarceration really entails, it would add some perspective if not empathy to a sentencing process that is often inhumane and robotic. 

Even Judge Judy needs Jail
In fact why stop with just the judges? Prosecutors and Defense lawyers could share a cell, eat beans together and pay seventeen dollars for a two minute call home, just like their targets and clients must do when imprisoned. It's not unusual for prosecutors and judges to forget the hopeless reality of prison by simply basing every Florida sentencing decision on scoresheet calculations and sentencing guidelines

Because if they did think about it, if the tortured lives and wasted time of each prison day the defendant would serve had to be counted and assessed in some knowing way, the prisons would be emptied except for the most violent criminals. How does it help anyone to have nonviolent people wasting time in jail? 

Recently a family from my home town sought advice about a federal habeas corpus petition to rectify the results of on an older grand theft case in which the defendant was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. Twenty-five years for a grand theft! He'd been offered a mere two years of jail before his trial. 

In Florida judges are forbidden to punish someone for exercising their constitutional right of going to a jury trial, but a judge may get around that by stating that information gained at the trial changed one's mind. One wonders if this judge would benefit from spending some quality time in jail himself. In fact why not have the judge spend say one hour for every year for which he sentences someone.

Wouldn't the victims be better off if the Defendant was earning money to pay them back even if he was just flipping hamburgers? Wouldn't society be better off if he was on probation? Wouldn't his children be better off with a father at home? It's unfathomable to me that the American Criminal Justice System is often just in the process but not in the results. Yet the truth is that the habeas corpus action was unlikely to meet with success unless some aspect of the process could be shown to have been a failure despite the obvious failed result of that process.

But let's brighten your day by thinking of others we should place in our empathy jail. Why not send every police officer to jail too?  Starting with the Sheriff,  all the way down. They'd all benefit from having a fuller understanding of how brutal the prison system actually is in Tampa Bay, Florida. Would the Pinellas County Jail's recurring problems with bad food, lack of safety and failures by the medical staff be affected if those in control knew that they would be spending time there? Would the Judges allow it to continue? Would the Prosecutors? Would the Defense lawyers?

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