The following commentary by Paul Craig Roberts was originally published in The Beacon on March 14, 2009.
The American Criminal Injustice System
Ronald Cotton spent 11 years in prison because Jennifer Thompson provided eyewitness testimony that he was the person who raped her. On March 9, National Public Radio revisited the story.
It turned out that Thompson was completely wrong. DNA evidence indicated that it was not Cotton but another man who had bragged about the rape.
I am familiar with psychological studies that conclude that eyewitness accounts are wrong half of the time. That is enough to discredit eyewitness testimony as evidence – yet police and juries always bank on it.
Rape victims tend to be angry and they want someone to pay. When shown mug shots or a lineup, they tend to pick someone, naively believing that if it is the wrong person the police investigation will clear the person. Witnesses to crimes who are not themselves victims want to be helpful to the police. Consequently, they also tend to deliver up the innocent to justice.
Law and order conservatives think that the only miscarriages of justice are caused by liberal judges and liberal parole boards who can't wait to release dangerous criminals to prey on the public.
The absurd idea that the justice system doesn't make mistakes about those it convicts, except when they are let off by liberals, has made it impossible for innocent people wrongfully convicted to be paroled.
To be paroled, a person must admit to his crime and go through rehabilitation. Of course, only the guilty admit their crimes, and so only the guilty qualify for parole. Innocent people tend to maintain their innocence.
A case in point is that of William R. Strong, who has been locked away for a dozen years or more for "wife rape." According to people familiar with the case, Strong's wife had a boyfriend and wanted rid of her husband. She accused him of rape. This was prior to DNA testing, but the perp kit still exists.
Strong comes from a patriotic military family. His father was a colonel, and Strong served as a lieutenant and has two college degrees. The family trusted America and the police and the justice system. When advised that Strong would be out in a year if he agreed to a plea bargain, the family, beset with troubles, pressured Strong to accept the deal.
The judge, seeking women's support, gave Strong 60 years.
That should be enough to wreck marriage in America, or for that matter, heterosexual sex unless there is a signed contract prior to each act.
The American criminal justice system is incapable of admitting that it makes mistakes. The criminology bureaucrats claim that those inmates who proclaim their innocence are in denial and, thus, cannot be rehabilitated and, therefore, remain dangerous. In truth, it is the bureaucrats who are in denial and constitute a danger to justice.
The criminal justice system has nothing to do with justice. It is a massive producer of injustice. The agenda is to clear court dockets and produce high conviction rates. These high rates are achieved through coerced plea bargains.
Law and order conservatives think of the police in godlike terms as "public defenders." Conservatives could gain more perspective if they watch some of the videos on YouTube of gratuitous police violence, such as one of a police officer delivering a brutal beating to a 15-year-old girl.
Libertarian free-market types believe that the private sector can do everything better than the public sector. This ideology causes libertarians to be blind to the dangerous incentives created by the privatization of prisons. On Feb. 12, CBS News reported that two Pennsylvania judges have been charged with sending kids to privately operated detention centers in exchange for $2.6 million in payoffs. State-operated prisons don't want more inmates. The more inmates, the more the work and the more the risk that a judge will intervene because of overcrowding.
In contrast, private jails make more money the more inmates they have.
Just think of all the kids whose lives have been ruined by the greedy judges and private prison operators. The judges have been sentenced to seven years on reduced-charge plea bargains.
But what about the private prison operators who paid the bribes to have the kids sentenced? Shouldn't they be put away for life?
The United States has the highest incarceration rate and the biggest prison population of any country in the world. With 5 percent of the world's population, the United States has 25 percent of the world's prison inmates. Recent research by the Pew Center concludes that one in every 31 Americans is in prison or jail or on probation or parole.
Many of Mr. Roberts' commentaries on the criminal justice system have been reposted at Truth in Justice and remain available to readers at our website. These can generally be accessed from the main section page for How the System Works. You can also locate his commentaries by using the search engine on the main page to find Paul Craig Roberts.