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6 Reasons the U.S. Justice System Is Anything But Just

6 Reasons the U.S. Justice System Is Anything But Just

The populace’s shocked reaction to the George Zimmerman verdict is telling: deep down, people still believe that justice prevails in U.S. courts. The truth, however, is that the court system is flawed in just about every way imaginable. The courts are in the practice of handing out punishments – not justice – which generally work to oppress our country’s racial minority and impoverished people.

Here are six ways the Justice System fails to promote actual justice:

1. Threats Necessitate Plea Bargains

In other countries like the U.K., the prosecution cannot threaten to pursue more aggressive charges if a suspect does not plead guilty and wants to go to trial. In America, however, this is just standard practice. The idea behind our justice system is that everyone gets his or her day in court, but that is rarely how things play out anymore. In many instances, maintaining your innocence is considered a dumb move because the potential punishment is so hefty. In most cases, people plead guilty and take a lesser punishment regardless of their culpability because the risks of losing at trial is far too risky. How is that justice?

2. Unequal Incarceration Rates

In the U.S., African Americans are six times and Latinos are 3 times more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts. Before you blame it all on behavior, police seem to disproportionately target certain people for arrests. Despite similar drug usage rates, black people are four times more likely to be arrested on marijuana charges. Moreover, punishments are not allocated equally. On average, judges sentence black convicts to 20% more jail time than white people who committed the same crime. How do you help convince a country that black and brown people are dangerous criminals? By disproportionately locking them up more often and longer to reinforce the idea that they are criminals.

3. For-Profit Prisons

Why does the U.S. have the world’s highest incarceration rate? As usual in this country, follow the money for the answer. Over the years, prisons have gone from a state-run entity to a private enterprise. Since maximizing profits for this industry requires stuffing as many bodies into the jails as possible, that means the demand for new inmates is always high. We can’t expect justice to be served when rich people have a financial interest in seeing more people locked up.

4. Public Defense is a Joke

Those who can’t afford a defense are supposed to be afforded a public defender attorney, but that is not always provided. There are documented cases of people being offered an immediate plea “deal” if they agree to not request council. The poor lawyers who agree to serve as public defenders are underpaid and overworked, and often lack the time and resources to adequately mount an effective case against the state’s prosecution. A great new HBO documentary, Gideon’s Army, portrays just how unviable the system is for everyone involved.

5. Winning Trumps Justice

With pressure from the state to obtain convictions, prosecutors are forced to play a game where being on the winning side is more important than being on the right side. Somewhere in this process, the idea of finding justice is lost. Prosecutors should be tasked with presenting a fair case, not attempt to win at any cost, particularly when “winning” may mean a potentially innocent person’s freedom is at stake.

6. Corrupted by Campaign Money

Think legislators are the only elected officials whose positions have been compromised by the Citizens United decision and the subsequent need to appeal to campaign donors? Think again: state judges (who decide 95% of the country’s court cases) are subject to the same warped system.

38 states require its top judges to run for office, and since voters generally knows little about its judicial candidates, the winner is usually the person who spends the most to get his or her (usually his) name out there. This leaves judges beholden to their private interest campaign financiers, which has unsurprisingly led to a surge of decisions in favor of corporations rather than individuals.

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151 comments

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12:09PM PDT on Sep 12, 2013

There are many people willing to try to fix it. Unfortunately none of those people have any control over the situation. Prisons are a quite lucrative business in the U.S. and you can be sure the beneficiaries of all that profit are good to hold on tight to the current system. They are also the reason our return rates are so high. Why would they want to rehabilitate a prisoner to lessen the chance of repeat offenders? It's more money in their pocket when they don't. In most cases I support a reasonably regulated free market but Prisons are one thing that just shouldn't be controlled by private interests.

7:46AM PDT on Aug 25, 2013

the system is broken and so few seem willing to fix it

1:15AM PDT on Jul 29, 2013

Injustice is everywhere...

12:05PM PDT on Jul 24, 2013

Kevin B.: like so many of the the other senseless rightwing apologists that repeatedly embarrass themselves on Care2, David F. has proven himself to be a serial moron. He rejects everything (facts, common sense, history, law) except the fairytales that are driven daily into his head like nails by his media lords. The guy is a verbatim parrot of rightwing noise radio, and there is no sign that he has been able to put two separate thoughts together in a cogent fashion since the 1980s. Can it be any surprise at all that he hails from Texas?

9:24AM PDT on Jul 23, 2013

So in your mind, David F., Martin Luther King did not stand up against white violence? Jesus, where do you get this stuff?

8:25AM PDT on Jul 23, 2013

There are a group of white people on the fasr right that want all this talk about racism to go away. They hate that a public discussion about it is going on again. They assumed they had black people placated They dodnt want to admit black people are still distrusted by a large group of the population. NO matter how wealthy they become they are looked upon with more suson. They are handled by the police differently. Simply put, they dont want to acknowledge that black people are still not equal.They dodnt want to admit that they hate that a black man is actually in the whitehouse. They will never admit that, of course because they dont want to defend that position publicly. But it is evident to anyone who can see with their eyes open.

The Republicans have almost completely shut this president down. They refuse to vote on anything that truly helps the country. They wont even vote on shit that they ALWAYS voted through. And you can bet if they get the whitehouse back most of that kind of vote weill happen again. Its simply cant and wont happen on Obama's wach. Racism is alive and well. They simply want everyone to shut up about it so they can pretend it is gone.

3:48AM PDT on Jul 23, 2013

Like Martin Luther King Jr

9:25PM PDT on Jul 22, 2013

Booker was a good man and leader, but he also preached not standing up against white violence and abuse of blacks (for various reasons). He was "safe" to the white community, so I am sure he is the kind of black leader you would approve of, one unwilling to stand against white violence.

9:18PM PDT on Jul 22, 2013

My quote was directed at folks like Sharpton, Obama and Jackson.
Booker T Washington was one of the greatest men in our history, Your only partly right, he knew the black panthers would not do well during that time. I don’t think this is the forum to discuss the good and bad of Mr. Washington.

9:14PM PDT on Jul 22, 2013

Hey Wanda, I hear O.J. Simpson once helped a cat out of a tree, maybe he should get a pass on murder too? Oh wait, he did, just like Zimmerman.

Oh hey guys, if it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, and swims like a duck....maybe its a duck. If everyone is telling you that you are racists....well, you know, quack quack!

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