“Our current criminal “justice” system has more to do with making a profit (through unpaid labor and filling quotas) and oppression of the marginalized than restoring individuals to wholeness and health. Though the United States holds only 5% of the world’s population, it houses 21% of the world’s prisoners. African-Americans and Hispanics are imprisoned at much higher rates, in spite of similar rates of drug use and crime as whites.   African Americans and Hispanics comprise 32% of the US population, but comprise 56% of all incarcerated people (2015). See NAACP’s “Criminal Justice Fact Sheet” for more information” naacp.org/criminal-justice-fact-sheet.
Fr. Richard Rohr in his daily commentary on September 22nd, social wounds , speaks to the horrific cost to American society attributable to our system of law enforcement and punishment. Not only are vast amounts of financial assets spent to incarcerate, an even great tragic loss is the waste of America’s greatest asset, its young people.
Based in Albuquerque, NM, the Franciscan admonishes a justice system which “has more to do with making a profit and oppression of the marginalized than restoring individuals to wholeness and health.” He continues with statistics that support the beliefs of black skinned and brown skinned people that they are unfairly targeted and more harshly punished than white peers.
In my lifetime I have seen prisons transition from government-funded facilities to private for-profit entities which stand to reap a greater profit with an increased prison population. The charge has been levied for several years that this is yet another device of a white controlled society to practice the brand of discrimination and racism which has existed since the abolishment of slavery.
Outside of the racial injustice issue, another great moral question of this privatizing of prisons is the incentive for unscrupulous judges to extract financial gain from the cases upon which they rule. In my home state of Pennsylvania, such a travesty was exposed.
A Pennsylvania judge was sentenced to 28 years in prison in connection to a bribery scandal that roiled the state’s juvenile justice system. Former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. was convicted of taking $1 million in bribes from developers of juvenile detention centers. The judge then presided over cases that would send juveniles to those same centers. The case came to be known as kids for cash .”
The judge is spending a lot of time in prison; however, the toll to young people cannot be reversed even as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court tossed about 4000 convictions issued by Ciavarella between 2003 and 2008.
Jeff Pollins’ stepson was convicted by Ciavarella.
“These kids are still affected by it. It’s like post traumatic stress disorder,” Pollins told the Times Leader. “Our life is ruined. It’s never going to be the same… I’d like to see that happen to him,” he said.
This overt display of greed targeting the least capable of our society able to defend themselves, i.e., youth and minorities, is not limited to a judge in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. It is a rampaging outgrowth of a society which not only condones violence against each other, but increasingly promotes violence in professional sports venues, in entertainment, and in cinema.
The POTUS encourages violence at his ego rallies, in his exhortations to the police to not be “so gentle”, in his stance on DACA, in his descriptions of female conquests, and in his approach to extremely delicate interactions with North Korea. Unfortunately, and sadly, the voice of violence is what his support base is demanding and expecting.
“[This is] the urgency of the great choice we face as a species: will we choose to continue to affirm a culture of systemic violence—or will we build a culture of active, creative, and liberating nonviolence so that we can not only survive but thrive?” John Dear, The Nonviolent Life (Pace e Bene Press: 2013), x. Note that Pace e Bene and John Dear are leading a Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions, September 16-24. Learn more at paceebene.org/programs/campaign-nonviolence/.
As always, we do have a choice. We can commit to live non-violently or we can become part of the “fire and fury” described by Trump in his tweet several weeks ago.