The Unsustainability Of Our Justice System
Engineering, in any form, is a wonderful place to be.
Things either work or they do not, and if they do not there is something real world and concrete in the problem that can be addressed.
Civil engineering is not only real but also visible to all us lay people. Freeways and bridges are concrete.
Mechanical engineering similarly ... cars either drive or they do not.
Electrical is less visually obvious (chips and circuitry as opposed to freeways and bridges) but still quite ‘understandable’.
The chemical engineers are the more mysterious ones, posed with the challenge of dealing with models and formulas that do not ‘grip’ reality as tightly as concrete and electrons buzzing around.
Still … something either works or it does not.
When it comes to the more abstract disciplines of human science, such as psychology or justice, these universes spin differently and not as 'real world obvious'.
There is a rule called the 80/20 that basically says that the majority of the result is achieved with the lesser of the effort.
Engineering applications embrace this in specifications that are sufficient to achieve their result without an absolute overkill magnifying costs unnecessarily.
Again, the world of physical science is blessed with mathematical models that deliver what they have to deliver.
Mathematically modelling human sciences is not easy – we do not behave as nicely as the Universe does.
In the macro Universe of Einstein, light bends with gravity and never exceeds the Speed of Light.
In the micro Universe of Quantum Physics it does get weird but we can still get real life results with our models.
Highly intelligent and rational people also start behaving weirdly when it comes to religion, politics and justice - but modelling this makes Quantum Physics a stroll in the park.
Out goes the 80/20 Rule and everything is a ‘valued’ judgement.
If the Justice system in South Africa were a bridge it would have fallen a long time ago.
If it were a dam it would have burst.
If it were a highway it would be full of potholes or swept away by a flood like the ones in Limpopo and Mpumalanga.
If it were a computer screen it would have blown up.
If it was the Koeberg nuclear plant we would have had melt down.
We have this absurd capacity of being ‘soft on hard crime, and hard on soft crime’.
We will keep a mother-to-be shoplifter awaiting trial, with her child born in prison, yet let out the worst of violent offenders early on parole to free up prison space.
The scales of justice are completely out of balance.
We squander our resources on soft crime because we read about Mayor Giuliani of New York and his “Broken Window’ theory.
Zero Tolerance became our Justice Mantra forgetting that the USA has far greater resources than we have and also ignoring all the subtleties in their application of it.
So whilst we watch American sitcoms where a celebrity performs yet another community sentence stint, we stuff our prisons with non violent law breakers, paralyse our courts with having them deal with the ‘small stuff’ and sort of get around when we can to the ‘big stuff’.
We do not have much more than about one hundred thousand bed spaces in our jails.
Precious space to keep the violent out of society for as long as they should be kept out.
To give every one a chance to do their time as we have limited bed space in jails, we afford everyone, even the most violent, parole.
Parole is a cynical method for creating bed space.
This is crazy … non-violent law breakers should be doing intensive community service in the full application of Zero Tolerance.
They should not be using up precious jail space.
Worse still, when we mix non-violent law breakers with violent law breakers, the chemical reaction of this erroneous human engineering will result in yet more violent people, and most of the rest transformed into broken people.
So our justice system increases the percentage of violent people in our society, and also the percentage of broken people.
These in turn have a negative effect on the rest of society creating yet more destruction - and less sustainability.
The problem is that when it comes to justice, most of us are too rooted in punitive mind frames, and despite our religious upbringings that most have, Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights goes straight over our heads.
The rabbit and deer hunting poachers of Nottingham Forest are lumped together with the likes of the real Count Dracula, Vlad III, the Romanian noble who impaled his enemies, including entire families and children.
There is a theory that whilst he and his brother were held hostage by the Ottoman Turks (his father cut the deal as part of the submission agreement with the Turks) they were frequently sodomised.
Hence Vlad’s impalement obsession.
The Chickens of our Justice System come home to roost every day, either broken spirited or Vlad-like.
The point to all this is that any system that is unfair, inefficient, ineffective and cruel (which ours is de facto if not de jure) will not promote Sustainability.
What to do about the justice system?
1. Non violent law breakers should never be incarcerated:
a) they should be part of a stringent alternative sentencing program in the context of a zero tolerance policy;
b) victim compensation should be provided for as far as possible;
c) municipalities should be one of the main providers of local alternative sentencing opportunities;
d) technology such as GPS tags are less costly than prison cell space and can add a further dimension of geographic restriction to address the more serious non violent law infringements.
2. Prison space is premium space and should be for the incarceration of the violent only; sentences for violent crime should be increased as a greater deterrent.