Justice — Part 1
of the Powerful Over the Weak"
At 2.1 million, the United States
has the highest prison population in the world, the
vast majority non-violent offenders. The criminal
justice system disproportionately impacts communities
of color. African-American males make up six percent
of the total population, but account for 48 percent
of the prison population. Eighty two percent more
Latinos are incarcerated than whites….
While more than 95 percent of all offenders are released
from prison, they face significant obstacles to finding
work and housing and successfully returning to their
communities. The lack of adequate rehabilitation
and programs to facilitate reentry leads to recidivism
and more crime.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee
The United States considers itself an
advanced and civilized country. We must therefore ask
ourselves why we have so many people spending the best
part of their life in prison. Is our society a breeding
ground for crime as well as a society of opportunity?
News programs show criminals spanning the social spectrum
from the painful streets of forgotten neighborhoods to
the boardrooms of multinational corporations to the council
chambers of government. Are the motivations of street
crime different from white-collar crime?
We have created a culture of crime, and
a penal system that perpetuates it rather than solves
it. Our society treats crime like a cancer for which
we have no cure. Unlike cancer, however, it is human
society that has created the environment in which it
grows and human society that does not support solutions
to the material and psychological desperation that causes
people to commit offenses in the first place.
Crime and aggression
in a culture are symptoms of social failure. Civil
government was developed to protect and nurture its
citizens and promote peace and security. Punishment
is a primitive form of consequence for offenses.
Those who have little faith in the human potential
for transformation mainly use it.
Those who use it
to humiliate and dominate others in the name of “justice” perpetuate
injustice, and are the perpetrators of a culture wherein
crime is a never-ending cycle. In our society, control
is frequently valued above nurture and our legal system
reflects that imbalance. The moral idea of “America” has
been gradually replaced by the “morality” of
the jungle where “might makes right”. Law
enforcement and judicial systems have institutionalized
Cruelty may take
many forms. Less obvious than outright brutality
and abuse, are the more subtly insidious forms of
neglect, exclusion, injustice, or simply not meeting
people’s needs. The aftermath of hurricane
Katrina is an example of cold-hearted neglect, and
the failure of government to meet the needs of its
citizens. On the world stage, ethnic cleansing, sectarian
hatred and violence, and wars with neighbors signify
failure of governments to serve the ideals of civilization
and culture. The common denominator of all cruelty
is humiliation and dominance. These are so contrary
to the rights of people for education, freedom and
A society that
believes in its people and cares for them will provide
opportunities for all to learn and to better themselves.
If people cannot even meet their basic survival needs,
how can we expect them to flourish and reach their
goals? We don’t even provide
them with the tools to learn from their mistakes. The
main goals of education are based on an optimistic
view that people may become contributing citizens when
they see their role in society, and are given responsibilities
that fit their ability. This is what makes them feel
that they belong and have a stake in society. Criminals
are created when they see that society neglects and
rejects them. Many are victims of cruelty from an early
age and nothing is done to make them feel otherwise.
Social conventions keep putting them down and make
them outcasts without any hope for the future.
systems of government where fear has replaced justice
have created apathetic, selfish and submissive populations.
Some may argue that increased crime and threats have
caused governments to behave that way in order to
protect its citizens. However, a society where crime
within and threat from others produce a sense of
insecurity, must ask itself why it is a target. Perhaps
a hostile social culture is a mirror of failed duties
and values. Perhaps it is a reflection of a society’s
A society guided by respect for people
will produce an environment where the top priority is
to provide the tools and opportunity for improvement.
A society improves and becomes safer as the members improve
and work for the betterment of others. More than tools
and opportunities, the motivation to improve must also
be present. This motivation is present where there is
respect for all and a broad ethic of public service.
People who respect themselves and others
would never be criminals. When people do a crime they
must be given the opportunity for rehabilitation and
they must be helped. Instead our “criminal
brutalizes people and strips them of the very human
dignity that would produce positive change in their
lives and make them contributors to society.
“The test of our progress is not whether we
add more to the abundance of those who have much; it
is whether we provide enough for those who have too
Justice Part 2 — "The
Ethic of Custodianship"
2007 Richard Sidy