Masochistic Perceptions, Trials and Truths

These are my cyberfied cerebral synapses ricocheting off reality as I perceive it: thoughts, opinions, passions, rants, art and poetry...

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Crime, Legality and Justice Lost

In “A Theory of Justice” John Rawls defines the institution of justice as being “a public system of rules which defines offices and positions… These rules specify certain forms of action as permissible, others as forbidden; and they provide for certain penalties and defences, and so on, when violations occur.” Rawls continues on stating “An institution may be thought of in two ways: first as an abstract object, that is, as a possible form of conduct expressed by a system of rules; and second, as the realization in the thought and conduct of certain persons at a certain time and place of the actions specified by these rules.” Therefore, it becomes rather apparent that there are great ambiguities which can arise in the matter of justice.

Justice systems have evolved from the dark ages of Thomas Hobbes’ natural state of man. In “Leviathan” Hobbes describes this state as follows: “During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man.” Over this evolution, the most arduous of tasks has been the balancing of that power with the rights of the individual. Certainly, in some totalitarian incantations of justice, individual rights were sidelined as torture and summary executions were common practise. Certainly, history is not at a loss when it comes to those who have lead with fear.

In Western nations such as my own, Canada, governments have endeavoured to move toward more humane justice systems, with a primary focus being rehabilitation and reintegration into society. In the early 1970’s the death penalty was abolished in this Canada. The United States seems to be on a similar line when it comes to its justice system, even though several U.S. states still have capital punishment.

Certainly when we speak of the Criminal Justice System, we are speaking about a system where the pendulum is in perpetual motion and precedents are set by the Supreme Court Justices of the day, much in line with what Rawls stated. Being in the frontlines of the system in Canada, however, I wonder if the pendulum has possibly dislodged from its anchor and has commenced rolling in a new direction. The transformation that seems to becoming apparent in both Canada and from my observations of the American system, is from being a justice system to becoming a legal system.

Case in point: in Canada if you are convicted of a crime, you immediately have more rights than other members of society at large, losing only your mobility rights as a result of your incarceration. When you become a ward of the state you are entitled to three meals per day, an hour minimum of fresh air exercise, discounts on things like tobacco, free legal aid, clothing, heat, electricity, satellite television, visits (including overnighters in trailers even for convicted murderers), phone calls and you can vote in elections. Where does all of this come from if you are a law abiding citizen? If I don’t pay my electric bills, cloth and feed my family, who will?

Somewhere in our quest to become a more humane system and one that seeks to return the vast majority of Offenders back into the community at large, the shift has gone from the victims of crime to assisting the perpetuator of the crime in hopes that they will not commit these acts again. In theory, much like Marxism, this sounds viable. In practise and given the endless factors affecting the criminal element, this system is dangerously flawed.

This also demonstrates the transformation from a justice to a legal system in that the system that we presently are utilising is based entirely on the rights of the individual; a reaction against such totalitarian regimes as previously depicted. The result, however, is like taking too much medication for a particular ailment, resulting in consequences fare more dire and extreme. For example, a man rapes and kills a child. The family will receive some community support. If they are fortunate they will have insurance to pay for the counselling and anti-depressant medication that they may well require, the funeral, etc. Perhaps not. And our child killer? Sentenced, psychologists and psychiatrists at his beck and call, all his necessary medications provided at the taxpayers expense, courses in anger management, eventually to work his way down through the system when, perhaps 15 years later, they will be released to a half way house.

In the media we constantly receive dangerous offender reports. These are reports of violent Offenders or sexual predators who have been released from prison because their sentences are up. This happens almost daily in this country. Now if the second mandate of our Justice nee Legal system is to protect the public at large, how then can it justify the release of such predators back into the community? The official answer: it is their legal right.

In my opinion, all serious sentences should be indeterminate in duration. After convicted of a crime, that Offender should be remanded to the appropriate maximum or medium security facility where they have to complete a battery of programming. Eventually, earning their way down to minimum security prisons and, finally, half way houses in the community, Offenders sentence lengths would be totally determined by the individual’s compliance and completion of programming and good behaviour. Privileges inside the institutions would also be dependent on behaviour and could be taken away as easily as granted.

The exceptions would be for individuals convicted of first degree murder and sex offenders.

Further to this system, which we will call the A-Track, would be the Z-Track. The Z-Track would simply be maximum security institutional warehouses where those convicted of murder in addition to any individuals who have gone through the A-Track and commissioned a second serious crime. Life would consist of basic nourishment and one hour fresh air exercise and nothing further. Executions would be at the request of the inmate as an alternative.

The Z-Track might seem excessively harsh, but we must reconsider this position. If a persons commits a crime so terrible such as child rape or cold blooded murder, what possible motive exists for ever allowing them to return to society and, further to this, I ask how we could justify the risk to society. As for those who have been through the A-Track and re-offended, I also believe that it is justified to state that society went out of its way to assist this individual to become law abiding. Life does not offer many second chances, so why should criminals be given multiple opportunities, given the cost of their actions? It was written in the Magna CartaTo no one will we sell, or deny, or delay, right or justice”. Certainly I can see how this can be used in defence of the Accused, as certainly the Magna Carta was largely written to prevent against the whimsical excesses of Old World Europe. My point is that when convicted “by the lawful judgement of his peers and by the law of the land” that we need to appropriate an adequate measure to keep the scales balanced.


  • At 12:57 p.m. , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    anonymous as a cockroach in the knight errant's armour... when commenting on those things that can lead to paranoia... 'step out of line and the man come and take you away', good exposition on the misguided directions we have from central booking. the see ess sea is floating a mandate from 'the people', i.e. you and me, what to do to provide secure custody and treatment opportunities until a release is mandated for the offender, so as to protect the public and encourage offender to be 'penitent' and return to society not worse than when he left. blah blah etc. it sounds good on a missionary stement but works to detriment of all, as you say. accountability of management at highest level long ago so compromised by excuse-making that no body believes those lies. someone must be blamed and the offender does not accept blame, so often the staff working in the security confines get it on them. a parole or correctional officer tries to prevent early release of dangerous offender and is accused of abuse. offender gets early release, murders/rapes/robs again and a file review is done to see if the decision was casued by someone at the 'lowest level' of authority. if it was the parole board decision overriding the parole/cx warning, no action is taken. so if the people/public wanted to know more about the release and rights of dangerous offenders, the resources to learn are in the files, hidden an/or lost. staff not allowed to speak. union speaks and gets a day in the media. paper gets 3 days old and goes away to see what's on in hockey news. joe public lines up at tim's for coffee to discuss it all. hockey news wins. today's urinal front page note that the faces of cheering fans look left at the headlines of four dead in afghanistan. this is confusing. small town paper priorities. here's a more salient point though, for me, because i have elected to only work with the offender as a person in a community of exile, not as a warehoused commodity. it is safer and has proven more humane and effective to deal with the offender face to face than with a weapon and chains. violence in the prison is lower with women working with us. programs provided do reduce criminal intent. the enemy to those opportunities is the two-faced drag-on of managers in place of power for power's sake and inmate in gang seeking power for power's sake. one prevents effective and, if necessary, violent repsonse to violence. the other prevents genuine participation in program for offender. result is staff with good intentions get jaded and depressed, blamed for being lamed by atmosphere of doubt, see cover-you-ass as a guiding light and enter themselves via wrong tunnel in search of inner peace. offender realizes he is responsible, knows he cannot get help unless he also contributes to mule train to import drugs, a symbol of power held by 'significant' others, returns to darkness and crawls up his own hole too. he refuses needed program, waits until mandatory release and stumbles back blindly into his original sin. no redemption, with very few exceptions. the guest preacher yesterday mentiond the nature of forgiveness in victim-offender reconciliation program. if the victim, joe public, does not offer forgiveness, the offender, john dope, does not get it, so he stays in exile or dies. right now, as you say, the power is exercised by uninvolved career-builders in oata wa-wa. those of uns in service get more depressed. the offender gets out on his'rights' and is left behind. victims report to doughnut shop for symbol of what they get for value. seems hopeless, but life goes on and the people are served, some what they deserve, for participating in process or trying to hide from it. the holes won't go away and we always have the security of a job in corrections. someone follow the leader, but usually that would be back up another hole, no light at end of hoop-tunnel. light up in sky, some moon does not take collection plate. the thief cannot reach that peace which i see is mine. recovery is one day at a time, from damage done by al cool or other drug, or the violence of offenders among us. so, i go back to work there tomorrow hoping the offenders can move about freely and blame themselves, not you or me, for their 'time out'. i hope to do my time on indian time, but cannot afford that motorcycle until we get the raise promised by big shirts in uccosax, knowing they face the stuffed shirts in ohwattagoo, siam. still, hoping, spring comes and the grass grows by itself. still, not legal to smoke it, slow time down and die later, but thinking of some day, pi in sky, horsemen of another apocalypse all fall off and let those free-range horses be. may as well read another blodgett poem and think, peace, om or umnh as the case may be...

  • At 2:16 p.m. , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I think we should refer to the Canadian Justice System as the Canadian Legal System, because there is no such thing as justice in this country.

  • At 2:00 p.m. , Blogger auntiegrav said...

    The 'special rights' to life in the US apply to the fetus in many states as well as the prisoner. Life is the social contract: The individual is supposed to agree and act according to the rules of society, and society agrees to keep itself from eating the individual. When the contract is broken, the offender is taken out of public society (virtually killed), but put into a state of higher protection than society granted the newly born child. We wonder at the high crime rate, but the criminals are treated as individual beings, while non-offenders are treated as cattle in the fields full of predators.
    I submit the question: "What does 'right to life' mean in the social contract?" Who is the society which is supposed to be honoring this contract, and why are individuals violating it so broadly? How can the non-offenders demand that they be granted the same protections as offenders? In what court will the damages be paid?

  • At 12:24 a.m. , Blogger firedawg said...

    Put everyone in on the Z-Track. For every perk they want they have to earn. You want TV better be good. Want better food then sandwichs, better be good. Want fraternization and exercise more then once a week, better be good. Be bad and you will make Hannibal Lecter think he was in the Hyatt Regency. "Good prisoners get a blanket, bad prisoners don't"

  • At 6:40 p.m. , Blogger Real-E said...

    ...I'm presently on a Hostage & Crisis Negotiator course which adds a different perspective on our approach to resolution of conflict. I will have to disgest the content a bit further before articulating my thoughts on this practise. Interesting to contrast the philosophy we are being taught in contrast to analysing things like Waco, TX in 1995.

    Anyrood, Firedawg, I agree in the merit/de-merit concept, but think that would better be placed in the A-Track. The Z-Track should be a warehouse with nothing - full stop. That way society is benevolent but not a complete sucker.

    Auntigrav, you raise an excellent question which I would like to push one more notch: Are "rights" absolute or simply contrived and suited to those within the community? If it is the latter, then can not the community define the "right to life"? Throwing religion into the mix of cousre points us to the absolute. So, what is the happy medium considering a cultural mosaic of different religions, gnostics and atheists?

    I beleive that society writes the social contract and it is derrived from the masses - which, like democracy, can be whimsical and, at times, dangerous!

    Got to go study now!

    ...Just an aside, just received email confirmation that my "Roller Girls" complete season one DVD is in the post!!!

  • At 12:32 p.m. , Blogger auntiegrav said...

    Contrived. Religion is only marketing of a perceived scarcity (worship our god our way, or you don't get any).

    Years ago, when I was less concerned with individual thought, I suggested to a friend that we should turn our abandoned aircraft carriers into 'transport prisons'. If the 5000 or so who are put onboard in the middle of the ocean can create an integratable society, they get to come back, if not, they are left to their own resources in the ocean.
    My friend's suggestion is to make the inhabitants of prisons build a new prison next to their own. If they behave, they get to move in. If they don't, they are 'explosively dissassembled' along with the old one to make room for the next.

    Society is broken when a group of people comes up with these ideas and thinks they are a good way for the human race to deal with problems. If society is broken, how does the individual find recourse?

    Individualism should be the counterbalance to society, not the bane of it. Society should be structured to allow this balance, not designed to eliminate it. As we grow things in the field (it is spring, and I have to make ag analogies), we can either kill all of the bad stuff (and the good stuff gets stunted) with chemicals, or encourage the good stuff through thoughtful actions and labors. Peak oil is bringing us to the cusp of this decision for all of humanity.
    When it comes to behaviors of people, we can encourage the good through hard work and labor, or we can attempt to remove the bad with energy-based separation and execution. It is much easier to find the real bad things if we put in extra work to encourage the good. Unfortunately, the system components (social workers, laws) don't have the flexibility to pull the weeds at the same time as they are spreading the compost. That takes individual-based decision and action.
    In order to accomplish THAT, we first have to put the lawyers on the boat.


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