If you have never been involved in the American Criminal Justice system, you should count your lucky stars. The Criminal Justice system is cumbersome, inefficient and expensive. I know because I have had a family member who barely survived a tangle with law enforcement. The charges almost cost him his career, and even though he was eventually found innocent, his reputation was ruined.
Recently, I learned a close friend of mine had an encounter with the criminal justice system. She told me the father of her two children was shot dead several years ago. The gunman, who was 16 at the time, was given 25 years to life and she was recently called to testify at his parole hearing. The young man in question has completed 19 years of his sentence and was up for parole. My friend had to go to the hearing to argue why the shooter should serve his full term. She wrote a letter explaining why the convict should stay in jail. She argued, she had been given a life sentence by his actions, because she had been forced to raise two black children without their father.
The Parole Board is still considering how they are going to rule, but this man is eventually going to get out of jail. He has served 19 years of a 25-year sentence, and in a few years he is going to be returned to society. This raises even more complicated questions. The shooter was locked up when he was 16, so he has spent more than half of his life behind bars, especially the bulk of his adult years. He has managed to attain a high school diploma in jail, but has not furthered his education beyond that. He also hasn’t gained any marketable skills while he was incarcerated. So, when he gets out, he is going to be a black man with a criminal record, no jobs skills and a high school education. What are the chances of him gaining employment? And there is the additional problem of adapting to a world that has seen giant strides in technology. The Internet, talking cars and smart phones are all inventions that didn’t exist 20 years ago.
Also, what kind of counselling and employment training will he get when he gets out? If society is going to lock up millions of Americans, then it needs to do a better job of helping these people reintegrate into society. If not most, of these ex convicts will simply revert to a life of crime and end up back inside.
This case raises several issues about American society. Firstly, the shooter was black and the victim was black. The victim was killed in an argument over a $25 debt. The shooter said he did it to fit in. What does it say about about society when Black American lives are valued so cheaply? And what values does a society have when a teenager thinks that killing a person will help them fit in? These two issues speak of deep social problems in Black America.
In addition, this issue shows there are no winners when it comes to crime. The perpetrator has spent the bulk of his life incarcerated, and the victim has the challenge of raising two fatherless children. Two families have been irrevocably affected by the actions of one man.
I don’t have the solutions to these problems. There are no easy answers. However, I wish voters and politicians would consider these issues when they pass get-tough-on crime laws. It’s easy to pass these laws, hoping they will crack down on crime, but if we don’t also allocate funding to educate and retrain released convicts, the Criminal Justice system just becomes a vicious cycle.