The Need to Reform the Criminal Justice System in America

The American justice system is based on several paradoxes. The United States was the first country, 200 years ago, to have a bill of rights. They were also the first country to end torture and other corporal punishment as the basis of the justice system. Believing in the possibility of reforming and re-educating criminals and delinquents, they invented the modern penitentiary system at the beginning of the 19th century. If the American judicial system has long served as a model in the world, it is different today.

This article is developed using insights from Joseph Lesniak. Since 2003, Joseph Lesniak has been a lawyer who spent the majority of this time employed by the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office as an assistant district attorney. Joe worked his way up the ranks to become the Special Victims and Domestic Violence Division’s chief prosecutor, where he handled the prosecution of numerous serious crimes. Everyone accused of a crime has the right to legal representation. If you are facing serious criminal charges, it’s crucial to look outside the public defender’s office for a skilled, seasoned criminal defense attorney who can provide innovative solutions and individualized care. The Law Offices of Joseph Lesniak, LLC, are highly credible in representation if you have been accused of a crime in Media, Pennsylvania, or the neighborhood.


The American political system originally developed around equal and impartial justice for all. Consequently, the system initially sought more to rehabilitate than to punish offenders. However, these lofty ideals have long since been forgotten.


With more than 2.4 million people incarcerated, the United States ranks first in the world, far ahead of China. The latter, which has four times the population of the United States, ranks second with a prison population of 1.6 million. In fact, the US prison population had grown 700% since 1970, when the country’s total population only doubled.


The growth of the criminal population is due less to an increase in criminal acts than to the establishment of new standards in law enforcement. A new judicial culture has thus emerged, which privileges incarceration over all other policies as a means of combating crime.


Thus, more than 50% of cases of arrest and conviction are linked to the possession of illicit drugs. In addition, many states automatically sentence offenders found guilty of a third, even minor, offense to at least 25 years in prison.


Too often, American justice perpetuates inequality instead of delivering justice. Thus, illegal immigrants convicted of crimes are subject to harsher sentences than US citizens. Similarly, African Americans, who make up only 13% of the US population, are arrested three times more often than whites for marijuana possession, despite the lack of a difference in marijuana use. African Americans then represent 55% of those sentenced and 74% of those imprisoned for this crime.


As for imprisoned women, the number has quadrupled since 1985. Forty percent of the latter are imprisoned for illegally consuming drugs. The biggest increase is among African American women, who are imprisoned eight times more often than white women.


Moreover, the United States is the only country with Somalia to have refused to sign the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which excludes the possibility of sentencing children to life sentences without the possibility of release. Thus, there are currently more than 2,400 prisoners who are incarcerated for life in American prisons for having committed crimes when they were under the age of 18.


Children as young as 10 or 11 are periodically tried as adults in several states. This is especially true when accused of committing murder. For example, an 11-year-old boy from Marion County, Indiana, was arrested for murder after killing his six-year-old younger brother on June 30. He was charged with manslaughter for recklessly using a firearm. He risks being sentenced to life in prison if found guilty. Last year, a 12-year-old boy who was charged with murder in Kosciusko County, Indiana, pleaded guilty to a lesser crime. He thus saw his sentence reduced to 25 years in prison.


It is at the level of the application of the death penalty that the American judicial system is the object of the most virulent international criticism. In 2010, another 54 people were executed there. However, recent studies show that the rate of a miscarriage of justice is very high. Fifty-two percent of those sentenced to death in the 34 US states that allow such sentencing was sentenced in trials involving serious miscarriages of justice. Last year, more than 200 people in the United States had their convictions overturned thanks to DNA testing. In three-quarters of the cases, the people had been convicted based on faulty eyewitness accounts. This situation led Governor Ryan of Illinois to temporarily suspend all executions in his state last February.


Between 1980 and 2006, US state spending on maintaining prisons rose from $7 billion to $53 billion, not counting the $16 billion spent by the federal government. In 2008, these same states spent a comparatively $158 billion on higher education and $25 billion on public assistance.


Clearly, the penitentiary system represents a veritable industry. Moreover, the number of private prisons authorized since 1984 continues to increase. In 2010, 129,000 people, or 7.4% of incarcerated people, were detained in such centers whose budgets reached $3 billion. Ironically, subsidies for rehabilitation programs had meanwhile been significantly reduced. The American judicial system seems to be an intrinsic part of the capitalist system, where the first rule is profitability and profit.

American presidential campaigns, by attracting a large number of candidates, have the merit, especially in the primaries phase, of promoting important reforms. As the candidates fight for the nomination of their party, they must all stand out with proposals that are favorably received by party activists.

This is precisely what Amy Klobuchar, a Democratic senator from Minnesota, did. The latter proposed nothing less to thoroughly reform the judicial and prison systems in the United States.

To justify her reforms, Senator Klobuchar used the case of Ms. Josephine Ledesma, a Hispanic woman imprisoned for 24 years before being released thanks to a presidential pardon in 2016. Aged 24 at the time, she was nevertheless sentenced to life for conspiracy to traffic cocaine because a family member used her phone to place orders and she once agreed to deliver an envelope of money for him to a disreputable friend of hers.

As soon as she entered the prison system, Mrs. Ledesma demonstrated a desire to get out of it, not to let herself be discouraged by her situation. She applied for a secretarial job within the establishment. Then she took refresher courses to improve her professional skills. She quickly became a true leader within her prison and a model of rehabilitation. However, without the presidential pardon granted by Barack Obama, she would still be in prison today. Cases like Ms. Ledesma’s number in the tens of thousands in the United States.

Despite having only 4% of the world’s population, the United States has more than 22% of the world’s incarcerated people. The American problem of mass incarceration began in 1970 as a response to an increase in the crime rate that occurred during the 1960s.

The US criminal justice system currently houses nearly 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 109 federal penitentiaries, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails and 80 Indian jails. Added to this are military prisons, immigration detention centers, public prisons for psychiatric offenders, and prisons in US territories.

Although the crime rate has been steadily declining since 1990, lawmakers and judicial authorities still regard imprisonment as a panacea in the fight against crime. Many states even adopted the rule of life imprisonment for three offenses, regardless of the seriousness of the offenses. As a result, the number of incarcerated Americans continued to rise.

When we look at racial disparities, the data is even more shocking. In fact, the justice system operates in a way that systematically eliminates millions of African American or Hispanic people from society. While stripping millions of American citizens of the right to vote, the penal system simultaneously destroys millions of families and disrupts the lives of racial communities for generations.

Furthermore, the entire American police and judicial system is based on racial profiling, which means that African Americans, and to a lesser degree, Hispanics, are likely to be questioned, arrested, convicted and ultimately imprisoned. For similar offenses, whites are six times less likely to be incarcerated than African Americans and three times less than Hispanics. Racial disparities mean that African Americans, who make up only 13% of the US population, make up 40% of the total US prison population.

While African Americans do not use more drugs than whites, they are far more likely to be arrested for drug-related offenses than any other community. Drug-related offenses based on racial bias explain 80% of the overrepresentation of African Americans in American prisons. For the same offense, the White receives a simple warning, while the African-American is brought before the courts.

The Rehabilitation Advisory Board ironically noted in 2018 that in the United States, the “process of rehabilitation of turkeys is more rational than that used in humans.” Also, in December 2018, Congress took an important step in the reform of the American prison system by significantly softening the laws concerning the sentences to be imposed on non-violent drug offenders.

But this is only the first step. We need to move on to a second phase to solve the many problems associated with mass incarceration. Indeed, the 2018 law only applies to individuals detained in federal prisons. However, 90% of prisoners in the United States are incarcerated in state or local institutions, whether they are private or public prisons.

Therefore, we require a major judicial reform that we could apply to the entire American prison system, whether the prisons are federal, local, private, or public. This reform would eliminate the inflexibility of prison sentences. In addition, the financial bail system would be reviewed in order to provide better legal support to individuals accused of crimes. Finally, it would remove obstacles to the reintegration of ex-prisoners into society by providing them with better education and vocational training programs.



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