It took nearly a decade to find the Unabomber, and the only reason why he was found was because his brother called the FBI. What about the anthrax mailer? Still on the loose. What about the man who set off a bomb at the Atlanta Olympics? Never found. We now have the psychotic Beltway Sniper and we even know what van he drives yet we still can’t seem to figure out where the hell he is. That is just ridiculous.
Law enforcement officials are supposed to be making the streets safer for everyone. They can boast an overflowing prison population in attempts to make it seem as if they have been sweeping criminals off of the streets. However, a quick peek into any prison or local jail will indeed prove that our streets are not any safer now that these ‘criminals’ are behind bars.
What the local Washtenaw County jail boasts is drug addicts, individuals that hurt themselves by drinking too much and who pump their bodies full of drugs. Rehabilitation programs are what these individuals need, not a four-by-four cell. The withdrawal symptoms that these individuals will incur in jail will only lead them to seek more drugs and alcohol the minute they get out, thus never solving any sort of problem.
Another look into the jail and you will find a vast amount of poverty stricken and mentally ill individuals. I blame the mentally ill population on the recent Engler administration. After slashing mental health funding to the bare minimum, our jails are overflowing with inmates who have turned to drugs and alcohol to ease their minds. Candidates are already hijacking the sniper case and putting gun control on their platforms. What they should put on their platforms is some serious restructuring of governmental funding for drug rehabilitation and the poor through improved social service agencies.
Indeed our system is set up to keep the poor poor and the rich rich. Enron execs with their Versace wearing lawyers will get off with a minimum sentence, while the poverty stricken cashier at Meijer who stole food for her children will receive some pro-bono lawyer she met five minutes before her trial and will receive a sentence, leaving her children to suffer in foster care. A little rich snob in one of my classes had the nerve to say, “She stole, she should get punished.” Yes, I understand that stealing is wrong, but we have to look at why she stole. Why is she poor? Why isn’t she on welfare? Why is she in the situation she is in?
Looking toward the reasons behind why people do the things they do will prove to be much more beneficial to society. I guarantee that by keeping that woman behind bars, the problem will not be remedied. Once she is out of jail, she will have difficulty reintegrating into society. She won’t be able to rent an apartment after having a criminal sentence; she will have difficulty finding a job and she will most likely not get her children back. This will lead to more suffering for her, and she will perhaps turn toward drugs to ease her pain and towards stealing food to survive. Her children will most likely continue their life in poverty, and they will most likely end up in the same situation as their mother. Hence the poor stay poor and the rich stay rich. This is because the root problem is never remedied. Sending people to prison and jail is a mere Band-Aid to society’s greater wounds.
It may be easy for government officials to point the blame at gun control laws and toward improper drug enforcement and legislation. However, the finger should really be pointed at ourselves. Locking people up behind bars may be a temporary solution but real restorative change needs to be made from within. Often times, this particular sector of society is ignored and a blind-eye is turned. Restorative justice needs to be implemented, and not retributive justice. Instead of punishing these individuals, we should see what we can do to help their situation and how to prevent future problems from occurring. What our government should invest in are the scores of social service organizations. It is imperative that these organizations receive the financial support necessary to survive.
It really makes one wonder if the criminal justice system is doing society any good, or if it only exacerbates and perpetuates the current problems of society They can easily arrest and detain individuals that are poor on drugs or who have no evidence against them. But, when it comes to serious threats, we just can’t seem to find the perpetrators. My suggestion to those that live in the Washington area: Keep your helmet and bulletproof vest on; this one may take a while.
Brenda Abdelall can be reached at email@example.com.