Crime and No Punishment

Everyone deserves a second chance. One might even argue you get three strikes, but in any case after that, they must pay the price.

JusticeIn the last few months, two officers were killed and two officers wounded in three separate shooting incidents. Where, you might ask? Southside of Chicago? A gang invested area of Los Angeles? Downtown Detroit? Baghdad?

Nope.

On Cape Cod, the ordinarily tranquil summer vacation mecca and one of the most beautiful parts of the Eastern Seaboard.

It’s happening here for two very troubling reasons. First, the incestuous nature of the court system. Spend time in the courts around the Commonwealth, mainly the smaller venues, and you’ll see it in action.

If you pay attention.

Certain defense attorneys, generally the old hands or their associates with years of appearances before the courts, are treated differently, and their clients benefit by the largess of this deferential treatment. Their ability to wrangle minimal sanction from prosecutors, with the silent acquiescence of the courts and despite the extensive criminal record of the defendant, defies logic and diminishes the effectiveness of criminal sentences.

It’s an enlightened version of the “old boy” network without gender discrimination.

The second factor is the secrecy around criminal records in Massachusetts. Out of some misguided sense of fairness to those who’ve committed a crime, access to criminal records in the state is almost non-existent.

Even investigators face Draconian rules to access records of suspects under investigation. It is these two factors, lawyers with an inordinate amount of influence within the court and the secrecy of criminal records, that put dangerous repeat offenders back on the street under the guise of fair pursuit of justice.

Everyone deserves a second chance, after that they must feel the full weight of responsibility for their actions. Access to criminal records is as much a matter of the public’s need to know as is any other governmental function.

Courts cannot work in secret. That is exactly the situation in Massachusetts. Judges need to act as a balance between a vengeful public and the rights of the accused. Once a defendant signs a plea, that second chance philosophy takes over. Fail any part of probation, commit another crime, violate any order, and the opportunity for leniency should be surrendered.

In many ways, it does not work that way.

This, however, is only part of the solution. The reality is resources to deal with repeat offenders, especially those who commit minor offenses, is limited. Often the state faces a Hobbs choice of where to put people who deserve to go to prison but there is limited space to put them.

To be effective the criminal justice systems needs adequate resources. But that doesn’t just mean more cops, judges, and prisons. It also means we must invest in a prison system that punishes in a manner consistent with the law and functions as an actual system of corrections.

Clearly, if you’ve ever seen the inside of most prisons in the US, that is not happening. We cannot expect a prison system that amounts to nothing more than a warehouse of troubled humans to return a better person back to society.

If we focus exclusively on punishment, at the expense of rehabilitation, we are perpetuating the very problem we want to solve.

Every single criminal case disposed of in court should be a public record. If it takes a generation before people once again understand actions have consequences, then so be it. We’ve created this society of victimhood where everything is someone else’s fault. We must be the first to recognize the folly of that and accept our own responsibility for it.

The situation in Massachusetts is not unique. It permeates the criminal justice system throughout the US. It shouldn’t take cops being wounded and killed by individuals who’ve been given not a second chance but what amounts to a get out of jail free card before we recognize the problem and fix it.

Our criminal justice system need reflect the realities of the human condition in life. Our Constitution guarantees the rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Pursuit is not a promise of success, just a fair opportunity to achieve it. Continuously breaking laws is not one of those opportunities.

“There is no going back in life. There is no return. No second chance.”

Daphne du Maurier

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