2016-06-09 – I don’t think much about the (so-called) criminal justice system in this country. Policing is unaccountable and erratic. Folks who get arrested don’t really have an effective right of trial. The vast majority are railroaded into copping a plea. Those who get convicted are looking at wildly inconsistent penalties from life imprisonment for getting caught with a joint to six months for rape.
Which brings me to the six month sentence of Brock Turner after his conviction in a sexual assault case at Stanford University.
The Internet storm over this sentence has focused on two documents: the heart-rending victim impact statement and the idiotic statement of Brock Turner’s father. (Do I make myself clear whose side I am on in this case?)
Now, I am not writing today to come to the support of the victim (though I do support her), and I am not writing today to pile on with those who have written the father to tell him a thing or two (though the father does need a lesson or two).
I am writing to suggest that our criminal justice system makes outcomes like this quite predictable.
The solution is not a longer sentence. Yes, Brock’s actions were malicious and deserve punishment. And if you compare his sentence to the sentence of a guy doing life for marijuana possession, you’d have to conclude that the wrong guy is in jail for life. But why would you use one idiotic penalty as the yardstick for another?
The victim was dreadfully hurt by the crime. But then she was further injured by the system that convicted her rapist. I would venture to guess that she was hurt more by the criminal-justice process than by the rape itself, though it’s not for me to judge. Still, it’s not for no reason that most rape victims don’t report their rapes to the police.
Sunday, I wrote about a psychological fact that many of us get off on administering punishment, even if the cost of punishing is greater than the harm being punished.
I don’t say this to diminish the harm of being raped. I say this because the outcry in favor of harsh punishment rarely comes from the victim. Usually, the outcry comes from the prurient spectators who have nothing in the game.
Would the victim herself have preferred a system that, instead of focusing on punishment, focused on helping her heal and on getting the perp to acknowledge and learn from his nasty behavior?
I don’t know.
But this would fit into a system known as “restorative justice,” which is about as far from our current system of criminal justice as you can get.
I’m not advocating it. Truth is: at this point, all I know is that the existing system is pretty bad.
If Brock Turner had wanted to make amends, the system would not have let him do it. (I have no idea if he might have been so inclined, and we’re really, really mad at this guy—so let’s assume it’s someone else.) He had a right to remain silent and he was looking at big jail time. And he had money. So the lawyers come in and tell him to keep his mouth shut. They adopt a strategy of putting the victim on trial. And you know the rest.
Is that what we want from our justice system? Do we want a system that keeps people from making amends? That’s what it does. (On the other hand, we don’t want a system that forces people to make amends. The victim might not want it.)
You might say that such a system would let a rapist (or other criminal) off the hook. I’m not talking about that. I don’t want to let him off the hook. But I think I might want to look for a different hook.
I’m not even going to think about how this case would have been handled if different races were involved or if the genders were reversed. (At least not today.)