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The criminal injustice system in the United States

The Criminal Injustice System in the United States

When we consider the truth, that The United States has less than 5% of the world’s population, yet has more than 25% of its prisoners, it does not sound right to any of us. How do we hold ourselves out to be the standard of justice and freedom in that statistical quagmire? How did we get to this point – and how do we get to a better place?

Like all complex problems the answers are not simple. Somewhere we forgot to notice what we were doing to ourselves. Fear seeped through the cracks in our societal confidence and we began to legislate in reaction to our fears instead of legislating in support of our inherent Constitutional equality. Our government began to work for the powerful elements in our society against the powerless among us. Privilege was given preference over those without privilege. It became more important to protect those with privilege from the real needs of the poor.

The operation of the justice delivery system became an expensive bidding war. Those with more money could afford more justice than the rest of us. The result was the imprisonment of the poor. Law enforcement translated that largely into race: Poor = Black and Hispanic in various parts of the country when applied to the “War on Drugs.” That made it easy for racial, ethnic and class disparities in courts and prisons. Another complication was every session of every state’s legislature adopted the philosophy that the solution to every problem was to craft a new criminal law or enhance the punishment of an existing law. The police powers of every state, local and even the nation itself became more like those in a different form of government than the democratic republic we hold ourselves out to be.

But even with the racial angle, we should remember a little-noticed fact is that so-called “white trash,” poor whites, were and are targeted too, that the most vulnerable men are usually men who grew up without fathers in the home, and that while it was once an industry that depended on poor minorities, now it just depends on locking up men in general. In hindsight we could say we should have cared about all this sooner, but the bottom line is if you’re interested in the welfare of men and boys, then the prison-industrial complex in the US should be something you give a damn about.

We have too many men (and yes, some women) locked up, for too little reason, for too much time, it’s not working and we cannot afford it.

Those we send to prison come out less able to live in our neighborhoods than before they went in. Locking people up for drug use and possession in a very Pavlovian sense only conditions them into associating freedom with access to drugs and/or alcohol. Prisons become revolving doors of high rates of recidivism and the few that do not return to prison have limited opportunity to earn a living for their families and are foreclosed from much of the housing and almost all of the public assistance afforded others.

Treatment for drug users works much better and is much less expensive. The same can be said of those who steal. Probation is far more successful than imprisonment. Most theft is driven by poverty and if we hope to reduce the incidence of theft, we could perhaps create jobs convenient to those who need them.

The sole purpose of prisons should be to contain those who would do others harm. We can no longer afford to lock up those we do not like. All sentences in almost all states reflect our desire to “get even” and not any notion of an effort to rehabilitate. We should devote the time in prison to training and education not to slave labor and warehousing inmates to deteriorate in our custody.

We should open the institutions up so they are not isolated from a normal society. How do inmates learn to live in a normal world if we cage them in a contained predatory and aberrant society? There are ghettos, barrios, and trailer parks out here where the residents have adopted the social norms of prisons because those places are the only places former inmates can return to.

Prisons too are warehouses for those with treatable mental and emotional problems. If anyone behaves differently, we tend to want to get them out of sight so naturally we send these most vulnerable people to institutions designed to abuse them randomly. It would actually be less expensive to build and staff institutions that could treat their disabilities but we would rather punish them for being different than help them get better.

Under the rubric of the “War on Drugs” the whole idea of mandatory minimum sentencing was created and became a fad fashion in legislative art. Every act that could be criminalized could be enhanced and improved with a fresh set of mandatory minimum sentences. It was madness, rhetorical revenge. It sounded good at the time but made no sense in application.

The new fad fashion is electronic imprisonment. Ankle monitors, sex offender registration and variations on that theme. It seems easy to let the electronics do the work so we write those laws with such a wide brush that we waste energy watching those who are a danger to no one. The consistent reports from those whose job it is to do this supervision is they could easily supervise those who may need watching but their case loads are such that any careful supervision is not possible.

So, what do we do? We start with a serious effort to undo what we have done wrong over the last four decades. We start by bringing the War on Drugs to an end. We reexamine all the legislation that passed to build and enhance that war, removing much of it from the books entirely. We look at the rest of criminal law for things that have hurt more than helped and eliminate or recompose those sections with the objective less imprisonment and more solving the problem or its underlying causes. We restore mental and emotional problems including sexual laws and drug addiction to a treatment model to correct harmful behavior more effectively.

We tell the private prison business to stop planning to make more profit from locking people up in their warehouses and invest in treatment modules that better suit the new thinking.

Most importantly, we as a society must deal with our racism, ethnic prejudices and class divisions. We can live in a better and safer world, if we all decide one is worth the effort.

My name is Deborah Kendrick, and I am a Prisoner Advocate, an Anti Death Penalty Activist, and a Pro Male Activist


About Deborah Kendrick

Deborah J. Kendrick studied at Guilford College in North Carolina, with degrees in both Psychology and Criminal Justice - as well as a degree in Paralegal Studies from Harford Community College In Bel Air, Maryland. She works independently and on a volunteer basis as a Prisoner Advocate and an Anti-Death Penalty Activist and runs both a Facebook group and website called Words Within The Walls. She abandoned feminism, realizing it is not about empowering women or about equality at all, and embraces mutual responsibility, compassion, and justice for men and women alike.

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  • externalangst

    Bravo Deborah. The War on Drugs is a collective insanity. Being molested by the State for a victimless lifestyle choice and / or health issue is an unmitigated evil of which future societies will be appalled. It is the drug warriors that are society’s real villains.

    I saw a poster from around the late 19th or early 20th century on the wall of a coffee shop. It was a petition from women calling for the banning of coffee as it was a ‘dangerous narcotic’. It complained bitterly about their men wasting so much time in coffee houses drinking coffee and talking.

    Apparently men weren’t being as useful to women as they could so these women wanted legal sanctions against drinking coffee i.e the coffee drinking men were to be criminalized. Sound crazy? Look at The War on Drugs and Debtors Prison for poor fathers.

    Lets not forget the religionists as well. Hence the term – The Baptists & Prohibitionists. These were a coalition of groups that sought to advantage themselves by persecuting those people who they thought should be doing more for the womenfolk and/or the church.

    I once read that it was older women writing letters to President Richard Nixon complaining about cannabis that lead to the extreme legislation he promoted in the 70s. Apparently, he thought it was a silly idea to go after “kiddy dope” but thought there might be some votes in it.

    A similar self-serving logic is behind the jailing of men unable to pay child support. In both cases, debtors prison and drugs, men judged insufficiently useful are persecuted and prosecuted.

  • Fredrik

    Drugs don’t do themselves. The “war” on drugs is a War on the People.

    My drugs are already legal. My only dog in this fight is my tax money being spent in a way that is wasteful and even counter-productive. Oh, and I also have a moral objection to using a strategy that is both ineffective and harmful, and then doubling down on it whenever it doesn’t work.

  • Robert St. Estephe

    AS I was told by my fellow grad student in college: “You are the hunted.” She was referring specifically to my unacceptable skin color and my dangerous genitalia. She was a brilliant student and was not hampered by politically correct “whiteness” or politically incorrect (heteronormative) maleness, so I imagine she is well on her way to tenure by now.

    For my own part, I became profoundly alienated by the hostile environment of grad school, and eventually became a volunteer historian at an innovative new internet-based university called A Voice for Men. Telling the truth, no matter how heterodox it might be, is the “privilege” I cherish. Well, actually it is no privilege at all, it is my natural right.

  • sammich heist

    Not everyone knows that when Canada started seriously talking about decriminalizing personal possession of tiny quantity marijuana (15 grams or less would have been a monetary fine, not a criminal offense but still against the law) the US Governement put a lot of pressure to successfully shut this down.

    Don’t take this personaly guys, I’m always glad when I read about efforts on your side to keep your corrupted assholes in check, got enough with our own here 😛

    And they’re trying to ramp up the same mandatory sentences and the rest of the prison and military industrial complex here in Canada.

    We’re all in the same boat, politicians just painted a stupid line on the floor to fuck with all of us.

    Just my 1.94 cents, according to google exchange rate :)

  • Zyavol

    Even now, the justice system frustrates both my fiancé and me. Due to our low-income and lack of driver’s licenses, we have yet to clear a case from my fiancé’s record. It has been five years and every time we try to get it cleared, somehow life throws another hell at us. (Our ex-roommate being a good example). And the fines keep getting higher.
    Recently, at least so far, we have gotten past our instability. And now we hope that we can finally get it cleared away and paid off. We found someone who will vouch for his rehabilitation, and hopefully they will trust his word and only pass down the fine, no time, no service, no classes. We live in the other side of the state now and gas is expensive.
    Ever since I met my fiancé, he was honest with me about his issues at the time. It didn’t matter to me. I just gave him my support to keep trying. I’ve been helping him try to break his chains. It has been extremely frustrating at times to get through the red tape to get him some new ID, therefore, a job, and finally a way to pay the fines.
    Often, I asked, “It’s only a few simple steps, a linear plan of action to just get it done. So why the hell does each step come with a shit-ton of problems and tape?!”
    I agree. The system really needs an overhaul. Mentally ill people don’t belong in jail. The suicide rate is high for these inmates. My fiancé has Asperger’s Syndrome. The deprivation alone drives him to the point of freaking out and they have to tranquilize him. And under the influence, he’s depressed and lost. He has attempted suicide at least once every time they lock him up. They only let him off with a fine because they don’t want to deal with a dead body. Simple as that.
    If the medical field in general was more affordable, we’d be able to get counseling and mental health treatment. In fact, a doctor once told him that cannabis would actually treat it effectively.
    That’s another thing that should be legalized. There are many medical benefits, and it would help my fiancé function better. War on Drugs? My ass. Try War on People.

  • onca747

    The War on Drugs, or whatever form it takes in most “enlightened” countries, must constitute the most horrendous waste in terms of money and human lives of any failed social experiment in history. I think it even beats Communism. I must be in the majority when I find it facepalmingly braindead that we have a long list of banned substances, when legal substances like alcohol, cigarettes, and hell let’s throw in junk food, kill millions more people than illicit narcotics ever did.

    But no, let’s throw millions of stoners in the slammer, call them “criminals” and take away any chance they have of a normal, productive life.

    Don’t worry, I love booze and pizza like the next guy, there’s no way in hell I’m advocating banning those things. I’m not even advocating banning cigarettes, although I’m the most bigoted kind of non-smoker there is: an ex-smoker. Nor is there much chance of those things being banned, what with the taxes and excise they bring in. (Excise: naught but a vice tax, BTW). I just think it’s bloody ridiculous. Make drugs legal, and most of the associated crime and problems would disappear tomorrow. Ah but then how would 50% of law enforcement and bureaucratic temperance jockeys justify their existence…?

    • Theseus

      Yet a ridiculous amount of people buy into this shit ( many of them while they are out in bars drinking rocket fuel, and chain smoking camels).

  • gwallan

    Privatised prisons are a particular stain. It has created a very well financed lobby intent on increasing the number of folk behind bars. Call it the “prison industrial complex” if you will.

    Beware the politician who promises to “get tough on crime”. It is the cheapest and nastiest form of politics there is.

    • zuismanm

      Exactly buddy!
      You just “have taken me words out of keyboard”!!!
      How is it in old sentence? “Look – where to money flows. It will say it all.”
      War on drugs is huge waste of resources for society, but – it is huge profit for private prisons industry… “Society” have no lobby in congress , prisons industry – have… That is it…

    • Theseus

      Private prisons.

      Definitely topping the list as one of the most toxic misandric stains on national soil.

  • 98abaile

    Oh dear, what an ideologically charged article, and look it’s that political football again. It’s so much easier to push agendas when you talk about transient statistical groups rather than real people; aren’t “the poor™” convenient?

    • AlexB

      Care to elaborate, instead of making vague remarks?

      • 98abaile

        Sure. First of all define poor. Quality of life? Whether they can put food on the table? What if we say it’s people in poverty? What kind of poverty, absolute or relative?
        Is “poor” beneath some arbitrary level of income? What about entrepreneurs who for tax reasons post a loss in a financial year or the wall street spiv cursing the millions he lost last quarter while sipping champagne in his penthouse? Is it a certain percentile bracket, one that would still exist even if we were ALL fat cat trillionaires with nothing better to do than argue over who has the fanciest super yacht?

        Okay okay, so lets assume we’ve come up with some definition of what poor is… are they always poor? Does someone come along when you graduate highschool and forever chain you to your social standing? What happened to the bottom 10% of society from 60 years ago? Are they still there? Did none of them start successful companies or make fat stacks on stocks and investments? What about all our current millionaires, what were they before they made their millions? I used to be poor, now I’m not quite so poor and nor do I intend to stay so.

        The vast majority of people start out poor; look at a university student, very little income, tons of debt and maybe no assets to his name, even though he’s poor should we pity his engineering degree? Look at a highschool leaver, no job experience, very few connections, no job, no assets, likely no mobility and the same level of qualifications as everyone else. Perhaps he’ll only be able to get a “dead end” job to start with, will he stay there for the rest of his life? Here’s a highschool drop out:

        The point I’m trying to make here is that arguing about the poor is pointless, “poor” is such an open and loose term that it can really mean anything you want it to (and it still doesn’t tell us anything about the poor’s future prospects). Which brings me to my next point: If “poor” is such a meaningless term then why do people use it? When people hear the word poor they imagine something, they never actually stop to ask what poor is, they let their heartstrings get pulled, they get riled up, they start demanding an end to “this injustice” and hey presto, victim narrative; yet because “poor” is a transient class, the “victim” is a “what” not a “who”. And of course who is to blame? That’s right “the rich”, an equally transient and undefined class of people always a “what” never a “who”, never mind that most of them didn’t start out rich, very few inherit their wealth and that the top percentile brackets changes yearly, monthly and even daily.


        So the article then:
        Despite the first paragraph pandering to feelings rather than explaining why such a statistic is unjust (not that I’m saying it isn’t), the second paragraph should be a massive giant flaming red flag with flashing lights and klaxons to any MRA; without any evidence other than implied correlation, we’re told there is some kind of injustice here. In just shy of black and white we’re told there is a privileged class and an oppressed class where the “privileged” are given preference over the “real needs” of the oppressed (does this sound familiar to you?).

        The third paragraph tells us that those with money (damn those rich elites and their magical ice cream!) can afford more justice…… “more justice”, does this imply that justice is getting away with a crime? I think we just found another football.
        The very same paragraph then goes on to imply that law enforcement decided to use this as an excuse for racial discrimination…….

        HOLD ON, what was originally described, was an OUTCOME that is systemic of wealth… how did this suddenly become a mandate? Furthermore, the article is simply assuming that a racial discrepancy is the result of willful discrimination (without evidence) and not taking any account of crime rates among certain ethnic groups (if racial discrimination is true then why are proportionally more whites convicted than asians?) and why is this only applied to “the war on drugs”? Why are drug offenders of certain races in specific parts of the country defined as “poor” and why are the police picking on them specifically? Could this be cherry picked to support the writer’s ideology?

        Back to the third paragraph and now she’s moaning about how legislative sessions are legislating (god forbid) or redoubling their efforts to crack down on crime and that this is somehow not what a democratic republic should be like…. even though all the legislating representatives were selected by the public… usually on a “tough on crime” stance that is popular with voters….

        Fourth paragraph and we’re moving away from the racial aspect (so why was it there?… oh yeah, victim/oppressor narrative!) and onto “white trash”. The “poor” label crops up again and oh yeah they’re being targeted (who? whites, poor or criminals?…). Then she goes on to say that the most vulnerable men are fatherless, something I think we all agree on, but wait are we talking about the vulnerable or criminals? Are criminals the vulnerable? To what, prosecution? Okay okay, I’m being dishonest here, it’s obvious that she thinks that the criminal justice system is too harsh and to some extent I agree. We also know that fatherlessness has affects on crime rates, well being and a correlation with future income and prospects, but then who are we blaming here, deadbeat dads, deadbeat moms…… the state? I thought we were blaming the state for being too harsh at criminal justice, in which case fatherlessness is just a correlation here, why bring it up? Is she perhaps trying to play our emotions?

        Either way we’re now onto hearing about how the criminal justice system is just locking up men in general. Hang on, I thought the general consensus was that more men get locked up due to cultural misandry, wasn’t she just trying to allude that people get locked up because they’re poor?

        Now she’s telling us that if we give a damn about men and boys…….. I thought we were talking about the poor. Also why should we care about the prison industrial complex when it’s the courts and the criminal justice system that send people to jail, not the PIC? Next we’ll be blaming daycare centers for making more babies.

        Fifth paragraph…. I agree with.

        Sixth paragraph and we’re told that locking people up makes them associate freedom with drug offenses… after getting incarcerated for drug offenses. I don’t see the logic. At least the rest of the paragraph makes sense.

        The seventh paragraph doesn’t make much sense at all though. Yes reform is good, but why can’t that be done in prison? I’d like to see proof that probation is more successful than imprisonment (by what metric? we know there are cases where probationers re-offend and even murder, when was the last time that happened with someone in prison?). She says most theft is driven by poverty and that we should create jobs that are convenient to the impoverished. But apart from the fact that people fill available jobs rather than jobs being created for available people (because businesses cater to the needs of the consumer, not the worker and you can’t just pull a successful business out of the ether just to give people jobs), has she considered that crime creates poverty by dissuading job creating businesses?

        The eighth paragraph tells us that prisons should exist only to keep harmful offenders off the streets, which they should. She then tells us that sentences reflect our desire to “get even” (I’d like to see her prove that, I’ve yet to believe in mind readers) and not to rehabilitate (didn’t she just say that prisons should only be for keeping harmful offenders off the street?).

        Ninth paragraph and she’s telling us that we should open prisons up to society…. those very same prisons that should only be for keeping harmful offenders out of society. Can she not keep on message?

        The tenth paragraph makes some sense.

        The eleventh paragraph tells us that minimum sentencing is a fad among legislators. What about among people who vote for legislators? Harking back to the third paragraph is it only a democracy when people vote for things she agrees with? The she repeats the “get even” mind reading/projection with rhetorical revenge.

        Twelfth paragraph is about ankle tagging, presumably something she should agree on because it avoids actual incarceration, but no apparently all those sex offenders who we didn’t lock up aren’t dangerous to society so we shouldn’t tag and monitor them either. Sex offenders….. set free…. un-monitored….. not potentially dangerous to society…. Sure.

        Thirteenth paragraph and here it is, her agenda. We decriminalize lots of things, we re-examine all legislation and still get rid of most of it anyway. We examine other sections of criminal law and dump those deemed harmful (presumably by her arbitrary standards) and look more seriously at treatment models (fair enough). Private companies should stop making profits. Society should look at all the racial discrimination and class divisions (I though we were talking about prisons, why does this crop up again) despite there only being correlations and no proof of causation; and that we can all live in a better safer world (by not locking up criminals).

        Finally she tells us quite plainly what her ideologies are (and really? Pro male? I thought we were equal male?).

        So where does the mens movement and mens rights come into this?…. Oh that’s right, it fucking doesn’t! She made one pathetic little correlation to fatherlessness in a tenuous context at best and then spent the rest of the article in an ignorant, contradictory, ideological rant at “dem evil prisons/judicial system/legislators/rich people”

        • Deborah Kendrick


          You don’t understand the article because you don’t deal with men in prison on a regular basis like I do.

          We don’t really have to get into the semantics of putting specific definitions to conditions of life like “poor”, do we?

          You REALLY believe that we vote these people into office??!!! Hahahahaha!

          And “equal male”? I don’t espouse equality – I believe in mutualality – or being complementary of each other. Men and women are different – and thus, can never be “equal”.


    • Theseus

      “…real people”?!!

      Yeah, I guess all the guys that have been thrown in the joint for trumped up DV, false rape, being unable to make child support or alimony, and drug addiction aren’t “real people”.

      • 98abaile

        And they’re all “the poor” right? Please make the distinction between real people and politically charged labels.

        • Theseus

          No dude, and I do not agree with a sweeping generality that it’s ONLY poor men that are suffering from this. But they are a class that is amongst the hardest hit.

          Also, I do not agree with everything she said; for instance I do not agree with all thieves (depending on the nature of the crime) getting off the hook because taking responsibility is part of the package, and as you say a constructive re-hab program combined with incarceration may be applicable in these situations. However, I believe she scored major points in looking at the totality of the situation.

          I am vehemently opposed to men getting incarcerated for the reasons I stated above, and whether you like it or not, many of the easiest targets are poor or blue collar men that do not have the resources to fight a lot of this bullshit.

          • Theseus

            Oh, and let’s not forget our wonderful court/criminal justice system, that makes it extremely difficult to determine whether or not the man is even guilty of said crime or not.

        • J Galt

          maybe your getting it a little backwards maybe the justice system should not be impoverishing people and marginalizing them. there is very few in society that can afford to go up against the government in court. it is the reason why there are movements and protests to begin with. the system of redress is corrupt broken and may only be able to be changed by a civil war of some kind. when a court system functions on the might is right principle regardless of whether that might is financial it’s time to “bring the corrupt temple down on their heads.” (quote from the movie -law abiding citizen) IMO

  • Drp29655

    Any time I hear politicians talking about the war on drugs, it makes my blood boil. I don’t know the exact numbers but drug use is up. There are more people, especially kids, who use drugs now than there were in the 70s. This “war on drugs” has failed. If it were working then there wouldn’t be a rise in drug use, especially in children. All this anti-drug propaganda is useless. In fact when I was a teenager it used to make me more curious about drugs. These “zero tolerance” policies don’t help at all either. All they do is give children criminal records and destroy their futures. Drug addiction needs to be looked at as a health issue, not a public safety issue.

    I’ve done a lot of research on marijuana. I don’t use it, I avoid using any kind of mood altering substance, but it seems crazy to outlaw marijuana when there are other drugs that are perfectly legal that cause more harm (alcohol, tobacco, even aspirin has killed more people than marijuana). Marijuana probably isn’t good for you, however no deaths have ever been directly linked to marijuana use. How many people die each year from alcohol abuse or from tobacco products? In fact, if you want to get high you can walk into a drugstore and buy a bottle of cough syrup and nobody will say anything to you. So what’s the point in keeping marijuana illegal?

    • OneHundredPercentCotton

      Marijuana is not “bad” for you, it is in fact, much better than any legal artificial drug in existence.

      There are strains that do not get you “high” being given to very young children now, and a God Send to those with Cancer, MS and a host of other chronic illness.

  • Druk

    One good start would be to get rid of strict liability criminal statutes for serious offenses. No one should be getting life-altering punishments for unknowingly committing a crime.

    • Fredrik

      Wait, what? That sounds kind of iffy, but I don’t know. Please give an example.

      • Druk

        “Statutory rape is one such crime…sometimes even decades in prison, even if…the adult had every reason to believe that he had been with another legal adult (appearance, verbal inquiry, even checking a fake ID).”

        • Fredrik

          Thank you, now I see what you mean.

    • Druk

      I would like to add that we should just reduce the number of strict liability crimes overall. It’s become ridiculous how easy it is to accidentally commit a crime, which is the basis for the book “Three Felonies A Day”.

  • crydiego

    It would be nice if we just started with something we know is broken, like stop putting non-violent offenders in a cage. I can’r help but feel that putting someone who buys drugs from an undercover cop in a cage is wrong. Maybe as citizens we should all spend a few days in their local prison as part of being an informed citizen.