The Scales of Justice

I recently watched this clip from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver about public defenders.  It is not a slam against public defenders, but rather a criticism of a system in which anywhere from 60-90% of people arrested cannot afford lawyers and rely on public defenders, but there are just far too many of them for public defenders to do their job adequately.  This leaves many defendants with less than adequate representation.  As a result over 90% of cases by public defenders end in plea bargains, even when the people aren’t guilty.  That’s a quick summary, but watching the clip is well worth the time and speaks for itself.

And I started to think about the entire philosophy of justice we have in this country and got really sad about it all.  It would be one thing if we had a beautiful ideal and we were continually striving towards it, but it seems that there is enough of a portion of this country that feel justice is working fine, and that if you are in a position to be arrested than you simply have some sort of punishment coming your way.  The system is rigged from the police procedures that target low income people knowing that many can’t afford to fight back and will pay fines whether they were really guilty or not, to the court system which puts low income people at a severe disadvantage, to the prison system which profits from long jail sentences for minimal crimes.  And once they are in there, opportunities are so low once they get out.  As President Obama said, we have 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prison population and compared to other western nations with similar standards of living we are one of the least safe nations.  The violent crime rate is down 40% from what it was in 1980 and yet prison populations have increased by over 400%.  Something is definitely not right.

Bernie_memeAnd my question really is why is it this way?  As poverty continues to grow in this country why do we continue to punish the most impoverished of our people for simply being in poverty?  I’m not saying that there aren’t people who commit crimes and that we should just let it happen, but when you look at the environment and challenges they face, those who criticize rarely have experienced such adversity.  Sure there is always a small portion who rise out of poverty but for the most part the poor are simply exploited for their labor or for their money.  On average, we don’t give them a living wage, we don’t give them access to equal education, we don’t give them equal access to quality health care, and we don’t give them equal access to healthy and affordable food options.

But they all deserve it right?  Making those bad decisions when they had so many good decisions open to them.  Do we not have a responsibility to raise the less fortunate up?  Do we just leave those who haven’t had the opportunities we had to languish and justify it with the idea it’s their fault they are in this position?  What about forgiveness?  What about compassion? How can we paint such a large population of our country with just one color and ignore the tapestry of lives that exist there?  As the top income earners continue to suck away the wealth of the bottom 99% why do we turn our attention downwards, kicking those at the bottom instead of shaking the tree more to let the fruit fall to the ground?  Some people in this country act like if we just eliminated the poor the country would be a better place, but in fact it would be chaos and nothing would remain.  No soldiers to fight our wars, no workers to pick our food, serve our food, work in retail, and all the other jobs we don’t even notice get done everyday.  And even if the void could be filled, the capitalist policies our country function on would simply shift more of us down to the bottom, while the rich keep benefiting.

Welcome to an economy built on consumerism and profit.  To answer the real question why, one simply has to follow the money.  It is to the benefit of the rich to keep the population of a large portion of the country poor.  Because there is only so far wealth can grow, it is finite and if the populous has more, they have less.  Life, liberty, and happiness for all citizens of this country take a backseat when money is involved.

I know this post was ranty and I try to put more logical discourse, but just sometimes you just look at these large systems that are so difficult to change when you are just one person and see millions upon millions of people being impacted by a system that is simply not there to help them, and in the long run doesn’t help the rest of us either.  I made a resolution with myself about a year ago then when I moved strongly by something emotionally I need to not just complain but do something positive, even if it’s just donate some money to a worthwhile charity.  Although perhaps on the periphery of the central theme of this post, there is something that I have been sort of procrastinating getting involved in for some time and I am happy to say I am procrastinating no longer.  I have decided to be a CASA volunteer which is a wonderful program where the volunteer acts as an advocate for a neglected or abused child in court until the system finds them a good and safe home.  Incarceration is a strong possibility for children who grow up in broken homes and maybe helping in this way I can help a few kids stay out of the prison system in this country.

15 thoughts on “The Scales of Justice

  1. Preach on brother 😎❤️✌🏽️ Loving this series and your heartfelt, intelligent and compassionate posts. Getting the word out there is action in itself- the more we speak up- the more people will notice- hey maybe there is a problem- and that’s a step in and of itself 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Best of luck as a CASA volunteer! I don’t know anyone personally who’s done it but it looks like a great cause. I couldn’t agree more about the criminal justice system. The US likes to dehumanize the poor, especially the incarcerated, and we forget that a lot of the time the reason they commit crime is poverty and lack of opportunity, not some sick desire to do evil.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment and well wishes. A colleague volunteers in her county in WV and speaks highly of it. That’s how I found out about it. I hope it’s as worthwhile as it seems. And I agree with you. Given that most people in jails aren’t even violent criminals so this mass incarceration isn’t even protecting the public from anything. Most likely it’s just the system protecting itself.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed it was…and yes getting the money out of politics is paramount…it’s really not a democracy if half the population is below or near the poverty line and only those with large amounts of money are influencing who we elect and what policies get passed.


  3. Swarn, this was an exceptional post, and a subject close to my heart. We live in one of the most wealthiest countries in the world, yet 1 in 5 children live below the poverty line. Not only does this significantly impact children’s well being well into adulthood, but it significantly impacts the well being of our country. Published this summer in JAMA Pediatrics:

    “Compared with children from “near-poor” families, with incomes 150% to 200% higher than the federal poverty level, the poorest children showed significant maturational lags in brain regions, including the frontal lobe, the temporal lobe, and the hippocampus ― all areas involved in critical thinking skills, such as reading comprehension, language usage, and associative learning, the authors say.

    “Dysfunction in these processes may significantly affect scholastic and later occupational success.”

    I am in agreement with Nancy, as well. The U.S. dehumanizes the poor. I am fed up with seemingly educated people speaking out of their arse, stating that the reason there is so much poverty is because people are lazy. Fuck that noise.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As you all have noticed, I tend to give a different opinion. Even though my religion has changed, much of my world view has not.

    I am dealing with this topic, one of my sons has been falsely accused of a crime. The evidence and witnesses prove my son’s innocence (Please know this is not a mom crying her son is innocent, the evidence proves it). So, you would think we would be free and clear, but we are not. The public wants our courts to be tough on crime, so they make the laws easier and easier to prosecute. We had to pay money to get a good defense lawyer, because I read public defenders are too overloaded and often recommend plea deals. We were able to pay this lawyer to show the evidence and we have been hoping the DA decides to not move forward and does not officially charge my son. Here is the thing, it is an election year, so he can not look weak on crime, so will he proceed just to look good to the public? I feel in a trial he will be found not guilty, none the less we have had to pay thousands of dollars to not get to that point. Yes, I have thought about other young men that have been in my sons situation. What if they could not afford a lawyer, they would probably plea and that would be on their record for life! That affects job opportunities. So, I do not think it is to hold the poor down, I think our “get tough on crime” is just throwing too many small crimes into jail. I think we can be tough on crime, but save jail for more serious crimes.

    I follow the Rock on Instagram 🙂 BUT, he was at a boot camp for young men. He said he was a trouble maker as a youth and that he needed this sort of thing to straighten him out. These boys, if they finish the program start back with a clean record. I have not looked more into it, but it looked like a great alternative compared to jail.

    Here is where I do disagree on poverty. My sons used to go to a school with a high poverty rate. These children received free breakfast, free lunch, after school programs, sports fees waived, one period for tutor. Yet, their high school graduation rate was 54%. Teen pregnancy was very prevalent. These children can get healthcare, money for food and shelter. I do not know what more we can do than to take them from their parents and raise them. Teens get pregnant when they can’t even pay for themselves. That continues the poverty, it is a vicious cycle! I can not blame the wealthy for this problem, the wealthy are not forcing them to have children they can not afford. In fact, the wealthy in the school, donated so much time and money to help the school and to help all children there. One example, all students received an Ipad. It was to help with home work, creative ways in the classroom…after 2 years, they had to do away with that program. My sons said they saw kids slamming them on bleachers, purposely breaking them and laughing. In my opinion, there comes a point where the poor have to take some of the blame for their situation that they continue to stay in.

    These kids can make it, but what I noticed, it was all about their parents. The kids that had a mom or both parents that pushed them in school, did well. But the kids that did not have a caring adult were the ones that disrupted class, made poor grades, and didn’t have a real vision of their future. That is not the fault of the wealthy.

    Now, maybe these kids feel they have to future because they can not afford a post high school education, I am sure that plays into some of it. I think we could change our education to track some kids to certain technical degrees. But until then, the poor have to go fight and work to get ahead with the system we have. Stay out of trouble, strive hard in school, join clubs and/or sports, DO NOT HAVE BABIES. My home state has the hope scholarship, that is a lottery based scholarship. It sent my two brothers to college and they are the first two college graduates in my family. I wish other states would adopt this as well. It gives every high school graduate a chance to a higher education.


    1. As you pointed out, it’s all about the parents, and I think the extreme solution is not to take the children away from the parents but to return the parents to the children. If both parents or a single parent are working multiple part-time jobs just to put food on the table (and maybe not even that), there’s not enough time or energy left over to pour into their kids. I doubt the solution is as simple as raising minimum wage, but maybe it’s pretty close.

      Certainly every individual is responsible for their own choices and actions, but when an entire demographic has the same serious problems, isn’t that a failing of the whole society?

      I am highly cynical of your iPad story. Since I know nothing of what actually happened I will believe the version I have invented in my mind which says that Company X or Individual Y bought a bunch of last year’s iPads from Hong Kong for $200 each, “donated” them to the school district, claiming a charitable donation value of $650, reducing their tax rate by $300 each, and maybe there was some Educational Technology Development fund that gave $100 per unit back to that charitable donor. Since I can’t conceive of how iPads would improve grades, it’s hard for me to imagine that someone wasn’t making money off the deal.

      I don’t mean to disparage the Hope scholarship, because it does sound great, but publicly funded post-secondary education (as was discussed here recently) would give everyone a chance to higher education, not the hope of a chance.

      So, I agree that you can’t blame the wealthy for the bad decisions that poor people make, but it is in large part the wealthy that create the system that pushes people in certain directions.

      P.S. I hope your son has come to the end of his foray into the legal system. It sounds very unfair.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ” If both parents or a single parent are working multiple part-time jobs just to put food on the table (and maybe not even that), there’s not enough time or energy left over to pour into their kids.” Usually, those are not the kids that are getting into trouble. Those are the parent/parents that expect more out of their children. It’s the kids that live with a parent (or some other adult) that let their kids run wild and that do not emphasize education that are getting into trouble. Why is an entire demographic suffering from these issues, I do not know. But the wealthy are not to blame for parents being unfit and for people having children when they can not afford to take care of them.

        The Ipads were not donated. The school district (only 3 public schools in this district, elementary, middle, and highschool) had a lot of money sitting in a fund. They had been saving money for years by not updating equipment or the buildings. Also, they did not have a busing system. If a school has a certain percentage of kids within walking distance, the school is not required to provide buses. The schools were within walking distance of the poor areas and the government assistance homes. A new superintendent came in and really wanted to improve the schools. He said the money should be used for the kids and the board agreed. They updated the buildings, equipment, and bought all high school kids Ipads with protective covers. Most kids did not have devices or computers at home, so the school thought this was a great way for teachers to send things to the devices (while they were at school and had wifi), new ways of teaching, just a whole other world of opportunities. The school could not afford the upkeep. It was shocking at how these were treated. And not only would the kids destroy their own, if they saw you place your down, they would step on it or pick it up and slam it. Why would they do this? My only guess is because it was for education and they didn’t care about education. No one made money off of this, it was a way to improve the school and improve the education.

        I am not against post secondary education, but that is also a hope for a chance. High school is offered for for free and around 15-20% of kids drop out(81% graduation rate in 2012-2013 US) Just because post secondary is offered for free does not mean everyone will take advantage of it.

        Thank you for your concern about my son. It has been tough, but we will get through. I did see that if a poor person was accused of a crime, they are screwed if they can not hire a good attorney.


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