Saturday, September 5, 2009

State Budget Cuts Leading Towards a Criminal Justice System Shutdown

The latest news coming from state legislatures fighting against increased demands on public services and declining revenue is that cuts need to be made somewhere. The person who sees the hours at a license branch cut back or the tuition rate at a state college increase feels a direct impact and is pleased about neither. The impact of releasing inmates early, especially among those convicted of victimless crimes, is not so easily felt by the typical taxpayer.

The Criminal Justice System has been a farce for many years. We have, by far, the highest incarceration rate in the world[1], more than five times higher than second place China. Yet with over 1% of our adult population incarcerated we still have some of the most dangerous streets in the developed world. Our homicide rate is the highest among industrialized nations except for the former Soviet Republics[2]. There is no corollary evidence to support a link between incarceration and a safer community. Quite to the contrary it is often our high incarceration rate that leads to our high crime rate.

As Senator Evan Bayh and so many others have repeatedly said, fatherless homes lead to higher interactions with the criminal justice system by their children.[3] In their zeal to fill the prisons our government has actually created a greater danger to us and more crime in our communities. Taking the primary breadwinner out of a family leads to many hardships not only on that family but the greater community as well.

A community where the courts have removed income earning fathers is going to suffer an economic decline. Currently the United States has over 3% of males aged 20-44 years in prison.[4] In some communities the rate is over 20%. Those are men approaching their earning potential peak and those higher earnings that are now gone are no longer being spent at local businesses. Larger employers of males who can't find a stable workforce relocate and children once inspired by a father are left to roam the streets where trouble brews.

I was given a crash course in the business of prisons when I was sentenced to an 84 month federal prison term back in 1989. After appeal, in which the sentence was reduced to the maximum allowable by law, and the mandatory parole I served a little over a year. I spent time at various institutions from Terre Haute to Duluth out to El Reno and then down to Oakdale Louisiana. That is where I learned about the true business of prisons.

Oakdale was a very poor community. The prison meant many jobs for construction and suppliers in the immediate term and in the long term were staff positions. Just like in the movie Cool Hand Luke there were also special services to certain businesses to receive low cost inmate labour.

It seems now though that the free-spending days of the criminal justice system may be coming to an end. At least 26 states have cut corrections spending in fiscal year 2010, and at least 17 are closing prisons or reducing their inmate populations, according to the Vera Institute on Justice, a criminal-justice reform organization in New York.

The prosecution rates for the federal courts provide some very interesting facts about crime and what the priorities of our criminal justice system is. In 1995 violent crime accounted for 5.3% of cases. This had dropped to 3.5% by 2005. Drug and immigration charges accounted for more than half of all cases. US Attorneys declined to prosecute 33.7% of violent crimes, 13.9% of drug cases and 1.5% of immigration cases.[5]

Our prison population is made up of few violent criminals and even when given the chance to prosecute, US Attorneys decline that invitation in over 1/3 of the cases choosing to instead concentrate on immigration offenses. The argument that prisons house dangerous criminal and keep us safe is a farce.

Some of those non-violent offenders in our prisons our very good fathers who have fallen on bad times. Either through injury, other legal troubles, mental health issues or a downturn in the economy many fathers have faced unemployment or seen a decline in income. During the long period of time it can take to get a downward modification in a court ordered child support payment plan the arrears can build. These fathers are not the dangerous menace to society that prosecutors would have you believe they are. The flames of fear that these desperate men will break into your home and harm you to get child support money if they are left on the street is not borne out by reality. In fact, incarcerating these fathers actually leads to a greater threat to society.[3]

I have long said that through a cooperative alliance the people can regain control of the judicial system. The system relies heavily upon plea agreements and out-of-court settlements. The US Courts resolve well over 80% of criminal cases through plea agreements and 10% through dismissals.[5] It is often reported that courts have the capacity for no more than about 5% of cases to go to jury trial. That means if everyone demanded a jury trial only 1 in 20 cases would be prosecuted. We the people could then demand that the real crimes be prosecuted. I wrote about this earlier in why jury trials should be demanded and about jury demands overburdening the trial system.

Each time I have demanded a jury trial the case against me has been dismissed. After one and a half days in court hearings preceding trial a felony neglect case against me was dismissed. It was completely without basis and only brought by Prosecutor "Toddy Bear" Meyer and Judge David in an effort to silence me. That attempt failed miserably. I was the one who demanded that the charge be reinstated after it was dismissed. I wanted five more days of court time to not only expose courthouse corruption to a jury but also keep the court too busy to harm others.

Each of us has an obligation to do what we can to protect children whether in court or out. If we can deplete court resources by demanding jury trials in all civil and criminal cases then we will limit the ability of CPS and judges to harm children. It very well may be that CPS is the actual cause of child abuse and neglect. Since its' inception in 1976 the rate of abuse and neglect of children has increased over 480%.[6,7]

Whether is be for a child support payment matter, which is not a crime in Indiana[8], or any crime, we all owe it to the children to demand jury trials and deplete court resources that otherwise could be used to the detriment of children. Joe Jurecki of Michigan is one such patriot who has steadfastly affirmed his responsibility to vigorously fight the child abuse system and protect the rights of children. In what could have taken no more than 15 minutes in family law court Jurecki has shown how to make it a one or two day criminal court case.

Jurecki tells the prosecutor that he will not be stopped from seeing his children, that he supports his children and that he will demand a jury trial in his child support payment case. Family law cases are not triable by jury, but here is the loophole. The prosecutor wanted to suspend his driver's license. Jurecki informed her to proceed with it so he could drive without a license and then get a jury trial. Thus, Joe wins his right to a jury trial in a case that started out in family law court. There he should get to present evidence as to the underlying cause of the offense. A talented litigator could spend two to three days doing depositions in a case like this and then one to two days at trial. Just imagine if every parent whose drivers license was suspended did this.

In Indiana, like many states, a moving driving offense is triable by jury.[9] In nearly all cases the offense is not punishable by jail time. If you have managed to reduce your assets to within the US Bankruptcy Court's exemptions then you have essentially nothing to lose. You can force police, prosecutors, witnesses, jurors and court staff to spend days tied up in litigation. Best of all. You will cost the court $1,000's with no possibility that they will recover any of it.

This child support payment system has become an expensive publicly funded enterprises that provides free legal services to a small, but vocal, minority of people. It is when the taxpayers no longer approve of spending huge amounts of their money to provide a windfall to a custodial parent that the injustices of the family law courts and this taxpayer funded free legal aid will be changed.

[1] Thomas P. Bonczar - Statistician, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prevalence of Imprisonment in the U.S. Population, 1974-2001, August 2003.
[2] Tenth United Nations Survey of Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems, December 2008
[3] Evan Bayh, Responsible Fatherhood Act, Introduced to US Senate June 2009
[4] Heather C. West, Ph.D. and William J. Sabol, Ph.D., Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prison inmates at midyear 2008, March 2009
[5] Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, Federal Justice Statics 2005, September 2008
[8] Stuart Showalter, Is Failure to pay Child Support a crime?, March 2007
[9] Stuart Showalter, LLC, Your right to a jury trial for traffic infractions, January 2008

Stuart Showalter

Indiana Custodial Rights Advocates

©2009 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

1 comment:

catherinetaylor2008 said...