In Florida, an 18 year-old first time offender
was convicted of burglary and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. (He carried a gun but did not point it at anyone.)
In New York, the NYPD has issued "wanted posters"
for a couple with a history of filming police "stop and frisk" harassment of Latinos and blacks.
In South Carolina, a woman was convicted after she injured people while driving drunk. The judge sentenced her to eight years in prison -- and
to read the Old Testament
. When that task is completed, she must write a book report on Job. (My summary would come down to four words: "Overrated, pointless fairy tale." I never liked Job. Everyone talks about that book as though it were deep and comforting. I found it to be about as deep as my dog's water bowl and about as comforting as cactus underwear.) Maybe that judge should be sentenced to read up on the separation between church and state.
America imprisons more people
(in absolute terms, not per capita) than does any other country -- including China
, which has four times the population. We're firing teachers and using the money to build more prisons.
This comes at a time when soaring costs of prisons are wreaking havoc on federal, state and local budgets, as schools, libraries, parks and social programs are slashed. When I graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1983, my state spent more on higher education than prisons, a lot more. That equation is now reversed.
Criminalizing human behavior like never before, our judges are required by law to mete out increasingly punitive, long sentences, even for children. Even after inmates are released, they remain under the heavy-handed and pricey control of the criminal justice system for years or for life, often legally barred from voting, receiving public housing, food stamps or student loans.
Forced to "check the box" on job applications that they are convicted criminals, even those who have had simple convictions like marijuana possession are often legally discriminated against by employers.
Meanwhile, nobody on Wall Street will ever go to jail for misrepresenting gimmicky financial instruments as solid AAA investments, even though the only thing backing those investments were toxic loans. Nobody in America cares about the great LIBOR banking scandal
. And nobody will ever prosecute the serial fraudsters
who run Bank of America:
They're out of control, yet they'll never do time or go out of business, because the government remains creepily committed to their survival, like overindulgent parents who refuse to believe their 40-year-old live-at-home son could possibly be responsible for those dead hookers in the backyard.
Ladies and gentlemen: Behold the wonders of American Justice. And enjoy your Fourth of July celebrations.