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  • Thrive Detroit

Wading Into the Morass of a Broken Criminal Justice System

Ever since I decided to research the mechanics of our prison system, I have been somewhat stuck.  I have had to reexamine some of my own basic assumptions about what truly constitutes justice, crime, and punishment, and how communities can be restored when these are administered by the right people, in the right way, for the right reasons.  The more I have read, the clearer it has become how broken our current criminal-justice system is.

I have sat for hours and hours poring over books, articles, and blogs, between trips to the kitchen for cups of coffee and raw juice and planned detours to my Facebook newsfeed for distractions from the angst that comes when an issue is so daunting that getting a handle on it seems like a mammoth task. 

I have paced the floor of my living room and literally cried because I had no idea just how defective, diabolical, and destructive some elements of our criminal justice system had become and what the “war on drugs” is in actuality:  unfair, unjust, and financially lucrative for a non-government group of growing prison conglomerates.   

If I had read the previous sentence just a few short months ago, I would have accused the writer of sensationalism and hyperbole.  After all, every system has defects, but to characterize aspects of our criminal justice system as diabolical may be a bit much.  And hey, the war on drugs has been very successful in putting away thousands of dangerous criminals and made our communities safer.  Unfortunately, I’ve since learned that I would be wrong on both counts.

So here I am, hands poised over my laptop keyboard, perplexed about where to begin, wondering which angle or perspective to write from,  and aware that I am a but a neophyte standing in the shallows, only about ankle deep in a topic with depths that are beyond my ability to navigate.   What can I really add to the conversation?

I’ve experienced feelings of helplessness, frustration, and determination, all at the same time.  Helpless to effect any real change for the thousands of citizens caught in the prison-industrial complex, frustrated that the proposed Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) reflects more of the same mentality that got us here and includes cuts in Michigan Prisoner Reentry (MPRI) funding, and determined to learn more and to bring attention to the impressive list of crusaders, the vast amounts of information, and the encouraging and hopeful programs, projects, and initiatives that reveal that there are right manners, innovative methods, and proven means to turn what has been like a destructive wrecking ball swinging through our communities into a supply of bricks and mortar to rebuild and strengthen them.  

With nothing new to add to the conversation at this point, my hope is that we can learn together, increase our awareness, and ultimately effect positive change to a broken system. 

This month (May) I invite you to read the executive summary of a 2011 United States Sentencing Commission report to the United State Congress:  Mandatory Minimum Sentences in the Federal Criminal Justice System, found here: .  Click on the Executive Summary link and take about 40 minutes to read the 25 pages.  If you get intrigued, you can read more detail in the referenced chapters.  It provides a good wading-in point.

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