Posts Tagged ‘justice’

February 23, 2010

So much for leadership…so long to juvenile justice

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Do you remember the scene at the end of “Wyatt Earp” where Kevin Costner holds off a lynch mob intent on stringing up a cowboy accused of murder? Me too. What I like about that scene is that it portrays a lawman who cared more for justice than he did for his own skin. He was willing to die to uphold justice. Holding off a mob would have taken some guts, but more importantly it took leadership.

The problem with the justice system in Colorado (and the nation) today is enshrined right there in the mission statements of half of the District Attorneys in the state. At www.AdamsBroomfieldDA.org the DA is charged with both “pursuing justice” and “hold[ing] the trust and respect of the citizens.” Here’s the problem folks: You can’t do both! Either the DA is a politician (nothing like Wyatt Earp) or he’s a lawman. More often than not, DAs choose to be politicians first. They’d rather “pursue” justice and fail than disappoint the mob.

I suspect that’s what has happened with the recent release of the Obama Administration’s Budget for the Department of Justice. According to a newly released report from the Justice Policy Institute, the President has completely abdicated leadership on juvenile justice issues–reducing juvenile justice and delinquency prevention funding by $133 million for FY2011. According to the report, the likely result will be:

… [less] money spent on prevention, and in innovative programs that rely less on incarceration, [which] may result in reduced public safety, more justice-involved youth, increasing racial disparities and diminished life outcomes for [...] youth [that] will impact not just themselves and their families but the health and well-being of communities and the nation as a whole.

In a nutshell: We’re sacrificing long-term solutions for short-term results that will put more kids in adult prisons and turn them into life-long criminals. DAs love this scenario because it means they’ll see half of the children they put in prison again. And the federal government has made it clear: THAT MEANS MORE FUNDING. The cycle will repeat over and over again until we put DAs in their place and let judges do their jobs.

So I’ll say it one more time, “so much for leadership; so long to justice.” We’re quickly becoming a country that prefers mob rule and political imprisonment to “separation of powers” and “justice for all.”

February 2, 2010

The Other Death Penalty

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The Death Penalty, a sentence which our society reserves for the most heinous crimes, has always been a subject of intense debate.  DA’s who recommend death as a just sentence can only do so in the most extreme cases, and are often second guessed by judges and juries.  Why is it, then, that a Juvenal Life Without Parole sentence is so easily accepted by society?  When we send a prisoner to jail with a death sentence, we are saying that society and the interests of justice are best served by the certain death of that person.  What are we saying when we send a child to jail without the possibility of parole?

DA’s who make the decision to file adult charges and seek a sentence of life without parole know the prison system well enough to predict the abuse and horror that will greet that child.  Those DA’s know that a child in an adult prison can look forward to years of rape, solitary confinement, and very often at least one suicide attempt.  How exactly does a life without parole sentence differ from a death sentence?

In both cases DA’s are making the determination that society and justice are best served by removing and isolating the offender.  In both cases, DA’s have decided that the idea of rehabilitation does not apply to the offender.  In both cases society has locked up the offender and thrown away the key.  The only difference that I can see is that the criminal with the death sentence knows there is a point when the horrors of prison life will end.  The child who is incarcerated as an adult without the possibility of parole has no such knowledge, instead that child looks at a future full of nothing but pain and abuse.  How is justice served in such a case, and why does out society allow such barbaric treatment of children?

Organizations like The Other Death Penalty Project are working to end this horrific hypocrisy.  Please help them by visiting their website and getting the word out.

January 15, 2010

Common Sense in Connecticut

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The article States Rethink “Adult Time for Adult Crimes” from CNN shows that at least one state out of fifty is at last facing the folly of charging minors as adults.  The story centers on a teenager whose life is basically ruined because he had the audacity to pilfer a package of chewing gum from another teenager, after which some fisticuffs ensued.  Was that a nice thing to do?  No, clearly.  At the same time, was it a “crime” worth charging him as an adult for?  A pack of gum for a life?  Thank god Connecticut legislators have the brains to see that such a trade is asinine.

When will Colorado legislators reach the same conclusion?  Direct File was invoked 138 times in 2007.  Surely, in some of those cases a serious crime had been committed, but in how many of them was the issue at hand comparable to a pack of stolen chewing gum?  Teenagers oftentimes do stupid things.  Mosh pits, Woodstock, drag racing, and constant texting come readily to mind.  If every teenager who made a mistake were to be charged as an adult, there would be none left to eventually grow into adults.  The fact of the matter is that the power to decide which crimes are felonious enough to warrant adult charges is a power that should not be lightly vested in elected officials, but rather carefully entrusted to judges whose sworn duty to uphold the standards of justice  is not subject to changing political winds.

December 11, 2009

I Wouldn’t Bet my Childs Life on it…

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In a recent article from the Denver Daily News Mr. Ted Tow, the executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys Council insisted that cases involving juveniles were always “carefully examined” by DA’s prior to determining if they will seek sentencing as an adult.

While it is nice to hear that cases are “carefully examined” by DA’s (and honestly, is that not simply the minimum standard?) examining those cases is not the prerogative of the prosecutor’s office; prosecuting them is. Judges do not have to please political supporters and worry about votes and elections. Judges do not have to fear making the tough, but morally correct, decisions;  DA’s do.  I would not want to place my child at the mercy of a DA–especially one that feigns objectivity when his or her imperative is prosecution.

December 10, 2009

Public Disagrees with Prosecutors Locking Up Kids as Adults

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Dec. 2, 2009 DENVER, Colo. – A recent poll of Colorado voters found that by a margin of nearly 2 to 1, the public believes that judges, not District Attorneys, should be responsible for deciding how to prosecute children. Conducted by national pollsters Ridder Braden, Inc. on November 6, the poll found that more than 65% of Colorado voters favor leaving the decision about how to try juveniles up to a judge.

There are currently hundreds of young men and women serving decades – even life sentences – in Colorado prisons. The decision to try a 14, 15, 16 or 17-year-old as an adult in each case is made by one person — a District Attorney. District Attorneys are not required to follow any guidelines and do not have to document how they made their decision. There are no checks and balances and no hearing before a judge. Prosecutors generally make decisions about whether to “direct file” children within 72 hours .

Opponents of direct file feel this leaves defense teams too little time to gather relevant facts regarding the circumstances surrounding a crime or a young defendant’s state of mind. According to Mary Ellen Johnson, Executive Director of Pendulum Juvenile Justice, the problem is really one of impartiality in the judicial system. “District Attorneys are not impartial judges,” says Johnson. “They often have a political interest in prosecuting kids as adults.”

A growing coalition of advocates, including the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center, Colorado Criminal Defense Bar and Youth Transformation Center ask if a system based on direct file is fair. Should the decision to incarcerate kids in the adult system at an annual cost of millions of dollars be left in the hands of one politically elected official?

Colorado taxpayers overwhelmingly say “No” and Johnson agrees. “Our system is supposed to be based on the rule of law. The bottom line is that we need an impartial person charged with protecting the public and the rehabilitation of juveniles to make decisions that will affect kids for the rest of their lives.”

Whether or not legislation will be introduced in 2010, Johnson and other advocates say opposition to direct file will not go away. “The people are behind ending direct file. In 2008, the legislature passed a mild bill softening direct file provisions. Governor Ritter vetoed it. Perhaps it’s time to ask the people to decide.”

Does the Law Work?

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This article asks a very serious question and presents three sobering examples of what can happen when the legal system is mislead, misused, and otherwise used as a tool of revenge and not as a blind guarantor of justice.  Are we foolish enough to believe that situations like the ones talked about in this article are too rare to worry about?  Are we foolish enough to believe that DA’s and other prosecutors are always the objective and level headed guardians of the law they are meant to be?

The legal system in America, while it may be miles above the legal system of other, less developed, nations, is still far from perfect.  We still condemn innocent people because of poor detective work, because of fear and prejudice, and most sadly of all, because of ignorance.

It is a sad enough reality that adults in this world are forced to contend with legal systems which, more often than not, are not concerned about justice as much as revenge; the fact that children have to deal with such  systems is unconscionable.  When a child is lost to the faceless, heartless, soulless, Gomorrah of our prison system we as a society have failed that child.  Many children grow up in fear, abuse, poverty, and ignorance.  If their situations drive them to break a law of society should society respond by locking them away, throwing away the key, and simply writing them off as a life wasted before it even began?  Or should society try and solve the real, tough, issues that led to that child’s behavior?