For so long as we condone injustice by a small but powerful group, we condonethe destruction of all social stability, all real peace, all trust in man's good intentions toward his fellow man.
—John Howard Griffin
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According to Aristotle, the main goal in life is to achieve happiness. One way in which people feel happy is when the are safe. The criminal justice system is set out to make people feel safe, but the process is not as simple as it seems. Justice alone is a term which has spurred controversy in the past and still continues to today. As John Howard Griffin read out of a book by Plato in Black Like Me, “… it is by justice that we can authentically measure man’s value of his nullity… the absence of justice is the absence of what makes him man” (114). Plato emphasizes that maintaining justice is imperative because it upholds good, but if certain people do not receive equal justice, they are not respected their rights. Problems occur when certain people or groups are not shown equal justice to the rest of society. In the criminal justice system, change is needed in regards to these aspects. Through the termination of racial prejudice and the incorporation of restorative justice, the greedy criminal justice system can reform into ways that help offenders receive equal justice and repair harm with their victims.
Many people today believe that there is nothing wrong with the criminal justice system and that it should be maintained as is. The ones who are making these assumptions are ones who are quite foreign to the criminal justice system, which is both a good and a bad thing. It is good because they are not committing crimes, but bad because they have no idea how unscrupulous the system is. There are people in prison today that are completely innocent, but that number is far less than the amount of people who are in prison for the right reasons, so people tend to brush over that. In Julia Kolsrud’s workshop, she posed a question asking her audience if they would rather have 1 innocent person who was wrongly convicted of murder released from prison while also releasing 10 guilty murderers, or not release anyone at all (Kolsrud). Everyone chose the latter. These results shows that even though people know things are wrong in the justice system, they don’t want to disrupt the way the system runs today. With the prison population escalating to 2.2 million in the United States, it is imperative to spread awareness about what is going on behind the scenes (Mission Statement). There are even prisons in the United States today that are making profits off of their prisoners.Profit encourages the incarceration ofcriminals who may not be deserving of lengthy prison sentences in order to make more money. The ones that are targets of this greedy system are minority races, as they are “the target of the most ignorant rabble in the country” (3). People need to become more aware that one of the biggest things that need to happen in the criminal justice system is thethe ridding of racial prejudice and the implementation of restorative justice.
By all means, racial prejudice must be abolished. In today’s society and throughout history, there have been numerous recurring incidents involving racial prejudice. There is no question that minority groups are bigger targets for crime in the eyes of law enforcement. As explained in Black Like Me, “Any time the police see a Negro idling, especially one they do not recognize, they will surely question him” (67). Profiling is a major problem. In the podcast Serial, narrated by Sarah Koenig, there was lots of speculation around why many believe Adnan Syed was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend. Was he convicted because he was brown, a Muslim? Though there was contentious evidence to back up his conviction, the results of the trial would most likely have differed if he werewhite (Koenig). In Syed’s trial, the majority of the jury was African-American. Jay Wilds, the man whose story ultimately lead to Syed’s life sentence, was also African-American. It does not come as a surprise that people of the same race are more inclined to favor helping out one of their own, even if everything does not always add up (Kolsrud). A change in the criminal justice system needs to take action where the race of those on trial remain anonymous to jurors, so their ultimate decision is not based off of skin color. By doing this, a step would be taken in making sure that the weight criminal justice system does not fall extensively on race (Mission Statement).
In contrast to abolishment, the addition of restorative justice into the criminal justice system would help offenders reflect on what they did, allow them to meet with those most affected, and result in harmony between the two parties. Restorative justice is not an easy process, but when it occurs, it results in hope. In Janet Connors keynote speech, she told her story about how it took her twenty years to be finally ready to forgive the man that killed her son. She took part in the restorative justice process, and was able to find peace with not only her son's killer but herself too (Connors). Victims and offenders can share hope together. As stated during the Summit, “Restorative justice is the cultural, political, and systemic change the Catholic bishops ask our society to embrace” (Mission Statement). Also, the whole process of restorative justices helps rehabilitate offenders who get the chance to enter society once again. This is important because once prisoners are released back into society, they often end up back in prison because the justice system failed to mold them in becoming better people. Since recidivism is such a huge problem in today’s criminal justice system, restorative justice will help lower these rates.Over 50 percent of ex-prisoners will return to prison in just three years after being released (Kolsrud). Some may argue that this process is not very useful because not all victims will be able to forgive. Yes, it is true that many victims will not be able to find this peace, but those that are able to find peace will effectively help in reducing incarceration, recidivism, and violence.
In short, it is imperative to understand that there is a need for reform in today’s criminal justice system. The two main actions for reform must be adding restorative justice and eliminating racial prejudice.This is not an easy task, but if achieved, there would not be the problems that we face with justice today.Things such as the Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown cases wouldn’t come down to race.This Summit experience has shed light on the problems faced by the criminal justice system and possible solutions.Through this unique experience offered by Brophy, students became more cognizant of issues that may not seem relevant to them, but in reality, the whole nation is affected by it.It is now on the students’ hands to make a difference and help share insight with the rest of the community at hand, to amend the criminal justice system, which will ultimately lead to safety and happiness.