I remember when our criminal justice system worked well. There was time to have proper trials. There were nearly zero wrongful convictions. Our prison population was about 338,000 (now over 2.1 million). That was 1973, the year I graduated from law school. That was before the “war on drugs” got ramped up. That was 45 years ago; that is how long it has taken us to create the dysfunctional justice system seen in America today. Nixon had declared that “war” in 1969, his speech to Congress in 1971 declaring drugs “public enemy number one” put it in the forefront of politics, but it really got going when the laws passed pursuant to the”declaration of war” started being applied, destroying American justice, decimating our black population, and ruining millions of Americans’ lives needlessly.
That was before 29 people benefitted financially from every 1 person arrested.
As the 20,000 of you who followed me on Facebook know, the great song by Tom Petty, “I won’t back down”, is my theme song.
- We are fighting for changes which will be extremely difficult to achieve. Despite all of the talk about ending mass incarceration in the last five years, the population of America’s prisons has declined only 2% in that time. Powerful financial and political forces oppose constructive changes: prison guard unions, police unions, every politician who takes campaign donations from private prisons and the thousands of corporations and individuals with a stake in maintaining the status quo, lobbyists, and even prosecutors, whose job should be to do justice.
- I am making a difference. Why stop, or “back down”, when making progress? Right here in my state I have seen dramtic improvements in thinking and policies. Not enough changes, to be sure. Changes not big enough to restore our justice system to sanity, to be sure. But significant changes nonetheless. More than I thought I would see in the five years since I have been calling for needed changes. At the cost of some “popularity” I probably have been the loudest, and one of the earliest such voices in Delaware. The fact is that many who snickered and laughed (Governor,other politicians, prosecutors, judges, prison officials, and many other “high muckety mucks”) when I talked about eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and legalizing marijuana five years ago, now parrot what I write in my Letters to the Editor and Articles on this website. Many now realize that we have made big mistakes which must be corrected. What kind of mistakes? Primarily, (a)thinking that “tough on crime” (mandatory minimum and “habitual” laws) reduce crime, (b) thinking that long prison sentences reduce crime, (c) thinking that prison is the place for nonviolent drug offenders, the mentally ill, and others, such as many first offenders, (d) thinking that cash bail is a good idea. During the past 5 years I have seen numerous studies showing that none of these measures reduce crime! And as our children are dying in droves from drug abuse (at this writing, about 191 every day!) they have been forced to admit that the “war on drugs” is an abysmal, disastrous failure.
So no, I won’t back down. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvlTJrNJ5lA