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Politics

The Criminal (In)Justice System

scales_of_justice_allen_allen.jpg
Allen Allen
/
Creative Commons

The American criminal justice system has become less 'just' over recent decades and prosecutors bear much of the responsibility.

The tough-on-crime culture of the 1980's and 90's shifted power away from judges and juries and toward prosecutors who embraced their new power to wield mandatory sentencing laws to rack up the convictions demanded by the constituents who elected them. 

The problem is they never let go of that power or the culture that rewards it, even as crime rates have plummeted to historic lows that are almost 50% below their peak in the 1990's.

They continue use sentencing to extract plea bargains from almost 95% of the people who come before them, even without evidence of guilt. Some impose draconian bail and probation conditions monitored by for-profit companies that extract a premium.  Others run modern day debtors' prisons, jailing people for misdemeanor crimes like shoplifting because they can't afford bail.  

Yet, there's cause for hope. A new breed of DA's are using prison as a last resort, focusing instead on "diversion" programs that offer a second chance instead of long prison sentences that research shows make worse criminals.  

Is it time to rethink who belongs in prison

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Colin McEnroe and Chion Wolf contributed to this show. 

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