This is a bigger subject than either major party would have us believe. Here are a few quick points.
- Our system is supposed to protect the innocent from wrongful conviction
- For those convicted and imprisoned, they should not be tortured or otherwise abused by guards or other prisoners
- Wealth and power should not exempt anyone from being brought to justice
We haven’t achieved any of these as well as we could. In addition:
- Those released from prison should be welcomed back to society. If we don’t do this, they will likely commit crimes or be kept from a productive life.
- “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.” Fr. Gregory Boyle, Homeboy Industries.
- Privatizing prisons poses many risks and should be avoided.
- We should avoid prison sentences where we can, especially when it doesn’t protect us, as in non-violent crimes.
Poverty and hopelessness breed crime. Programs like Homeboy Industries are effective at giving people skills and hope, an opportunity to change their lives. Community policing and outreach to the young can help us build a law enforcement service made up of people who have experience with the people they serve. We need to create an atmosphere in which people can make better choices.
Within the court system, we need to enforce the Brady Rule to avoid the conviction of innocent people. We’ve all seen the cases where an innocent person was imprisoned for many years, and there is no way to make that up to someone. We need to be careful with plea bargaining, as it is sometimes abused to gain a conviction when a trial would be more fair, especially for the poor who depend upon a public defender.
Compassion does not mean letting criminals run free, but rather enforcing the law fairly and without favoring any group. We all must be equal under the law.