Is Our Criminal Justice System Fairly Balanced?

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In my short time as an extern, I have seen a lot of what goes on behind-the-scenes in the District Attorney’s (DA’s) office. I find it completely depressing that the stats I read about in my college books are true: Most violent offenders are young black males and most of these crimes are related to drugs.  These young men will spend much of their lives languishing in prison with little to no hope for a fulfilling life upon release.

For example, I watched Day 1 of Malik Golden’s trial. Malik is a young man who graduated from a local high school. Two months after graduation, he and a friend decided to rob a drug dealer of his money. Their fatal mistake lay in the fact that they brought a loaded weapon. After a short struggle, Malik shot the victim to death with one shot.

Malik was incarcerated for two years before his case finally came to trial last week. I watched as this young man came into the court room. Clean shaven and dressed well, I would have taken him for a Best Buy Sales Associate and not a killer. Save for one couple, the victim did not have any supporters. Malik had a lot of familial support on his side. I wondered how close they are as a family outside of the court room. Did they see him travelling down a path of criminal behavior? What did they try to do to save him? Does he regret what he did?

Because I love justice, I used to think “fair’s fair”–if you take someone’s life, you should lose yours as well. However, in the short time I’ve been studying our criminal justice system, I am coming around to a different way of thinking. One of the most affecting documentaries I’ve watched to date is “13th”. Scholars argue that our current criminal justice system is set up to incarcerate young black males. In fact, prisons are primarily housing young black males in a disproportionate number compared to whites.

Over the weekend, I streamed Hulu’s,  “Casey Anthony: An American Murder Mystery“. Casey Anthony was a mother charged with murdering her two year old. At the end of her trial, Casey was cleared of her murder charges and convicted of misdemeanors for lying to police. After time served, she spent 10 days in jail and was released. At the end of it all, no one is being held accountable for the death of her baby.

Malik, on the other hand, received life in prison with the possibility of parole. This means he will spend approximately 30 years in prison before his first parole hearing. He will be older than I am now before he gets out. This is what I struggle with: Why did Casey only spend 10 days in jail and Malik will be in for over 30 years? Of course, the answer is much more complicated than that: Casey’s case was circumstantial and witnesses testified against Malik.

I hope to continue learning more and more about our criminal justice system and the inner-workings that determine the course of a person’s life after committing a felony. For now, I’m still trying to figure out whether or not the judicial system we have in place is fair.

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