Notable Quotes

"The rate of incarceration suggests that we are trying to build our way into social control rather than engineer social solutions."

Keith Nelson '71


Instead of a form of lenience for minor offenders to give them a chance to reform themselves into good citizens, "probation" has now become just alternative sentencing, with almost no one excluded—even career criminals with several prior prison terms and 20-page rap-sheets!

Jim Parker '65


Even with an economy which is at full employment, if we continue to have a shrinking middle class, I believe that we will eventually have an increase in crime.

Hon. Steve Heimann '77


More officers and higher volumes of arrest do nothing to lower the crime rate. This philosophy only complicates the problem by flooding the system, but offers no long term solutions to crime.

Mike McCarty '91


Magazine
Winter 1999

Law & Order in America:
"Remarkable Progress" or the Calm Before the Storm
An online forum on the U.S. criminal justice system

Question 1: Is the criminal justice system really making "remarkable progress" in its ability to deter crime?

Several factors have combined to impact crime: new technologies, joint criminal justice system efforts, and the three strikes laws are at the top of my list.

After many years of neighboring law enforcement jurisdictions not communicating with one another, almost all of the 60-plus law enforcement agencies within Los Angeles County have some form of mobile digital terminal communications that includes links to the major federal, state and local criminal databases as well as communications links with each other. The rapid exchange of crime information and the ability to coordinate multi-jurisdictional efforts is effective. Local agencies are also working with each other by forming multi-jurisdictional taskforces to deal with specific crimes and criminals that might otherwise not be connected by crossing over municipal boundaries. And partnerships among communities, the District or City Attorneys Offices, and law enforcement agencies have done some creative things, such as applying civil injunctions against gangs to prevent them from congregating in parks and using the RICO statutes to indict the major players in such criminal organizations like the Mexican Mafia.

The three strikes law in California has also contributed greatly, as evidenced by the Los Angeles County Jail system having become primarily a detention center for the future state prisoners awaiting disposition of their felony cases in the Los Angeles Superior Courts. Almost all the misdemeanor arrests are cited out pending trials, and even after conviction most misdemeanants receive some form of alternative sentencing to incarceration, since the jails are full to the bursting point with those having felony charges and awaiting state transportation.

Lt. Richard Moak '69
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department
California


It seems difficult to reconcile the statistics citing a reduction in crime with the increase in the numbers of individuals incarcerated.

The numbers on incarceration parallel the increases in prosecutions and convictions. Are we catching more co-defendants involved in the same criminal acts than before? Are we making fewer plea bargains and therefore prosecuting, convicting, and sentencing more defendants? Are the various task forces (city/county/state/federal) in operation sweeping up more of the criminal element based upon either more cooperation/information sharing or as a result of broader application of statutes and "conspiracy to commit" charges?

Economics, aging of the baby-boom generation, intervention programs, tougher sentencing—all of these play a part. However, is there greater deterrence, or simply more prosecution or more incarceration? There does not seem to be any corresponding drop in recidivism. The crime statistics may not be showing greater deterrence, but greater incapacitation. The rate of incarceration suggests that we are trying to build our way into social control rather than engineer social solutions.

Keith Nelson '71
Supt., Illinois Department of Corrections Training Academy
Springfield, Ill.


"What explains the decrease in crime?" From the perspective of probation, it certainly is not because we've been "doing a better job."

Until the last couple of years, we've been threatened with layoffs, endured lengthy hiring freezes, and seen many programs cancelled due to years of budget reductions. Only recently have things begun to improve, but not in time to recapture the quality of the job as we knew it in the early '70s.

Today, the [young men] who were first-, second-, or third-time offenders and whom we used to try to socialize through personalized supervision (often with some success) are banked in computer-monitored caseloads (thousands of cases assigned alphabetically to several probation officers, to handle by telephone, mail, and computer-generated forms). Municipal Court Reports (pre-sentence recommendations) have almost disappeared, replaced by plea-bargains carrying sentence "tops" that are often ludicrously low and seldom withdrawn. Defendants are "summarily admitted" to probation without our investigation and recommendation. This happens routinely in felonies—totally unthinkable to us in the "good old days!"

Early in my probation career, I had an "affirming moment" in a pretrial conference with two defense attorneys, two deputy district attorneys, all arguing at once, who were finally "shushed" by the judge, who said, "I'm going to do whatever Mr. Parker recommends." I thought to myself, "Wow, I'm actually getting to help define justice!" Since then, the system has gradually become so overloaded that such moments are few and far between. John Augustus, the first probation officer, must be spinning in his grave! Instead of a form of lenience for minor offenders, to give them a chance to reform themselves into good citizens, probation has now become just alternative sentencing, with almost no one excluded—even career criminals with several prior prison terms and 20-page rapsheets! Intensive caseloads are made up of defendants who should have been sent to prison, but weren't—so our job has become catching them in technical violations and revoking them before they create new victims: our way of "protecting the community."

Jim Parker '65
Probation Officer, California


I have two different perspectives on this question. First, I was a detective in Nashville, Tennessee's domestic violence unit. The domestic violence unit realized that collaboration and early intervention were the keys to reducing violence in the home and breaking the cycle of violence for children. More officers and higher volumes of arrest do nothing to lower the crime rate. This philosophy only complicates the problem by flooding the system (overburdened courts and prosecutors), but offers no long term solutions to crime.

The key was expanding the scope of policing to a community policing approach and realizing that a purely law enforcement response to crime does not work. [The result in Nashville was a 50% reduction in domestic violence homicides.]

My second perspective differs greatly. I moved back to Indiana in 1997 and have watched as the homicide rate is rising at an alarming rate in Indianapolis. Yet Indianapolis seems to be doing just the opposite of Nashville. They offer Band-Aid approaches to crime—more officers on the street, more prosecutions, and higher rates of arrest. There seems to be little community collaboration. The domestic homicide rate seems to be around 28% which is a norm across the U.S., except in cities such as Nashville. National experts in homicide agree that domestic homicides can be greatly reduced. Why won't all communities buy into the [collaborative model]? Our prisons are flooded with men who were either abused physically/sexually or witnessed violence in the home. Let's intercede and break the cycle.

Mike McCarty '91
Domestic Violence Consultant/Former Detective
Nashville, Tenn.



I think that we need to initially understand "the criminal justice system." I regularly hear how inefficient our government operates. People ask why we can't run it like a corporation. It needs to be understood that the system is purposefully designed to be inefficient. The old saying that we could achieve efficiency if we allowed the officer on the beat act as judge, jury and executioner is true.

But, beyond the question of efficiency, we need to recognize that we have three main players and numerous additional players in the system. If any one of them is not doing its job, then the entire system breaks down. The three main players are the police, the prosecutor, and the judge. They are not accountable to each other, nor are they accountable to any other sole source of authority. So, while we often talk about the "criminal justice system," it is not a "system" in the traditional sense of the word. It is a process. But I think that the word "system" connotes a more methodological and organizational flow than takes place from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Clearly, studies have shown that one of the greatest deterrents to crime is economic stability. Our current economic boon does account for some of the downturn in crime. At the same time, even if this economic boon continues, I note that the middle class is shrinking.

In our community, we are at full employment with the unemployment rate at around 2%. However, in the past 10 years, the jobs which have come into the community have been in the range of $6.50 to $9.00 per hour. We have a growing phenomenon of 30-year-olds working full time and living with their parents. The parents are helping to take care of their children, their children's spouses, and the grandchildren. Even with an economy which is at full employment, if we continue to have a shrinking middle class, I believe that we will eventually have an increase in crime.

Hon. Steve Heimann '77
Bartholomew County Circuit Court Judge
Indiana

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