Justice Imperative/Pertinent Issues of The Connecticut Justice System Report:
Throughout the course of this class, so many issues had been called to my attention in regards to the criminal justice system that I didn’t even know were going on, especially the problems that exist in our own state of Connecticut. The Justice Imperative, by Brian E. Moran, along with everything present in class gave me a better understanding of the problems that truly do exist within the criminal justice system and helped me to understand that something does need to be done to address and fix all of these issues. The only problem in looking at all of this now is having to figure out how to fix all of these problems or if there is even a way to fix all of the problems we are facing. The Justice Imperative examines a lot of the main problems we are facing and gives a look at the truths and myths surrounding the issues and gives goals and recommendations on how to fix main problems, at least in regards to the state of Connecticut. The main issues addressed in the book are prison sentences, incarceration, and release from custody. All these issues required some type of reform in order make our criminal justice system more humane and less flawed.
Chapter 5 of The Justice Imperative talks in detail about the expanded length of prison stays in Connecticut itself. Moran says in this chapter that many people believe judges take special and individual circumstances into account when sentencing a person and that if that person exhibits good behavior they will be eligible to get time off. Now over the years there have been a lot of changes in regards to the way people are sentenced to prison. For a long time prison sentences were given as indeterminate sentences meaning that a period of a person’s incarceration has a minimum and maximum term stipulated so that the person’s parole eligibility depended upon the time necessary for their treatment, meaning someone would be sentenced to 5-10 years for committing a particular crime with a chance of being released at some point within that period. However, this method of sentencing became too closely associated with rehabilitation which is a frowned upon method in our current society for dumbfounded reasons. So that along with states needing to find ways of saving money and some of those states looking for ways to do away with parole, many states shifted towards the use of determinate sentencing in 1981. Determinate sentencing is a fixed period of incarceration imposed by a court, meaning instead of being sentenced to 5-10 years a person would be sentenced to a fixed number, say 8 years, and have to serve out that entire 8 year sentence. Also, the implication of mandatory minimums on certain crimes, especially low-level offenses, has raised the amount of people in prison by a large sum. When comparing that to the myth Moran says people believe we can clearly see that the hand’s of judges and even parole boards have been tied and their influence over sentencing severely weakened. Not only that but the lack of people being eligible for parole and the more people falling victim to mandatory minimums leads to a huge overcrowding problem.
To deal with this problem, Moran suggests that mandatory minimums be limited to only high-risk offenders and violent crimes based an assessment of the individual’s specific circumstances and criminal past and that the non-violent and/or victimless crimes with mandatory minimums attached to them should be lifted and instead the offenders should be provided with alternatives to incarceration, such as fines, restitution, and community service. He also suggests that reforms should be made to provide more sentencing discretion to judges and more discretion to decision-makers for parole and probation. Moran’s points in regards to these changes in Connecticut are fair and accurate. The reason I agree with his points in regards to prison sentencing is because we as a society need to stop being so retributive and revenge driven. Criminals are humans who do bad things, but they are still humans. Not every person who commits a crime deserves to be locked up and have their freedoms taken away and those who do deserve to be locked up deserve a chance at freedom if they truly regret and learn from the mistakes they have made. If some punk 17 year old kid is caught selling drugs on the street and it’s his first offense, why should he be thrown into a prison for 2 or 3 years because of a mandatory minimum if we can possibly send him into a program that could rehabilitate him and make him a productive and law-abiding member of society again. Same goes towards the idea of the determinate sentencing, why let a guy who committed an high-level crime who after years in prison has attempted to turn his life around and truly show remorse for the mistake he made rot in jail for the rest of his life because of a determinate sentence. Giving people second chances is a big part of what our society prides itself on, and following Moran’s idea’s proposed in The Justice Imperative is a great step in making that idea of humanity and second chances a reality. In terms of critiquing Moran’s ideas in this case, I truly feel they are dead on and strong path that we need to consider following in addressing the issue of prison sentences.
Incarceration is a huge problem when looking at not only Connecticut, but the entire country. When looking at the problems of incarceration I believe there are three main points to look at: the overcrowding problem, the cost of mass incarceration, and the treatment and care of the incarcerated prisoners within the prisons.
The Justice Imperative touches upon the issue of overcrowding in chapter 2. Moran discusses the fact that Connecticut’s prison population alone has skyrocketed by imprisoning more non-violent offenders, with the total going from 3,845 prisoners in 1980 to 16,600 prisoners in 2014 which is an increase of over 300 percent. Moran attributes this spike to the increased use of incarceration as a means of punishment tied with the longer sentences and prison stays. Moran suggests that the way to fix this overcrowding problem in Connecticut is to follow the examples of states such as Texas and New York who have been able to reduce their prison population sizes without dangers to public safety and they did this by investing money into treatment programs for nonviolent offenders and into expanding probation as an alternative to incarceration. In regards to this, I would say that this is a smart example to follow. The myth that these prison expansions are enough to house all the prisoners we lock up is absurd because the expansions created are unequal in ratio to the amount of people being locked away. Therefore the truth of the matter is that some other form of punishments or rehabilitations need to be established so that we aren’t herding these human beings like animals into these tiny areas where free space is becoming more scarce by the day. Moran provides us with examples of this system of rehabilitation for nonviolent criminals actually working, so it’s time Connecticut took the hint.
When it comes to paying for this mass incarceration many people will believe that every dollar spent on prisons, jails, etc. is making us safer because all the bad people are being locked away to never be seen again. What they don’t understand is that the money from taxes put into the prisons is not an equal return for them in safety, treatment of inmates through incarceration, or reduction of crime rates. Moran writes specifically about the war on drugs and how that came with a huge price tag, causing not only a spike in prison population but expanding state budgets for law enforcement, corrections, and prosecution (change from 10.6 billion in 1987 to 52 billion in 2011), meaning that the taxes of the working citizens of Connecticut must raise with the raising budgets. I find this to be shockingly true fact that Moran presented and something that I personally never thought to be true until it was presented to me. And I find it hard to believe that all of this can still be an issue when a cheaper solution is staring us right in the face. Moran points out that incarceration costs an estimate of $100 a day, while probation costs an estimate of about $10.24 a day, almost a tenth of a cost for incarceration. We need to stop and think here, if we just look into these cheaper options, treatment for low-level drug offenses, probation, etc., we can kill a lot of birds with one stone including a possible end to the war on drugs, a reduction in taxes for the residents of Connecticut, and a way to cure overcrowding in the prisons.
With the idea of incarceration, many people have the mentally that all prisoners are hardcore, violent, and dangerous felons who deserve what they are getting and those in prisons who aren’t like that and who are suffering from mental disorders or addictions can get the help they need if motivated to do so. The Justice Imperative sheds light on both of these myths showing the true colors of what’s inside the prisons. The truth is that a large percentage of prisoners in Connecticut since the 1980s is mainly non-violent offenders with treatable substance abuse addictions who aren’t truly a threat to public safety. As for treatment for these non-violent substance abusers, Moran tells us that it has been estimated that three-fourths of all inmates suffer from addictions and disorders and there is a shortage of available treatment in the prison facilities for the affected inmates. Therefore, this idea that all inmates are tough and mean felons is a stereotype that we have to break because the reality of the matter is that many inmates are people who have issues that can be treated in better, cheaper, and more helpful ways than incarceration can. As for the available of treatment for inmates, we all have to agree that it’s inhumane to lock these people away and not provide them with the adequate treatment options. No matter what crime they commit, people are people and all have the same rights to be taken care of.
In conclusion, incarceration is a complicated area of the criminal justice system but if we make the changes that The Justice Imperative suggests regarding incarceration we can make it a little less complicated system and a lot more efficient.
With all this talk of incarceration and the problems it has we see a domino effect that leads into the inmate’s release and their lives after prison. In this regard we have to look at how life inside prison affects the inmate’s life outside of prison. This has a strong correlation with how long an inmate was in prison for and their experiences inside the prison. It is based on those factors that can either lead a person down a good path after release or down the path to recidivism. Moran talks about how the myth of the public is that reducing mandatory minimums and liberalizing parole will make the public unsafe. But the truth behind this, according to Moran, is that inmates are lot more dangerous if they serve out their sentence entirely and are released then if they are released into programs or released on parole. The reason for this is because once an inmate serves his sentence he/she is released without any real type of supervision even if they have a history of violent behavior. Therefore, we are better off releasing these prisoners early and into adequate supervision so that we can ease them back into society and make them one with it again. Otherwise, just allowing a fresh out of prison inmate loose on society could lead to recidivism, meaning the offender gets rearrested.
Since the prison system rarely scares people straight and actually seems to harden a person more, those people released without supervision are more likely to commit a crime and get rearrested within two years of their release. What does Moran suggest we do to prevent this recidivism of offenders? Simple, put into place these treatment facilities and allowing inmates the eligibility of parole after time served and sentence more probation. The more supervision we give these offenders and actually attempt to treat and help them, the less likely they will commit more crime and be rearrested. I believe this idea is so easily understandable and makes a lot of sense and it confuses me to no end why we keep making the same mistakes over and over again and then wonder why nothing is getting better, meanwhile the simple solutions are right here in front of our eyes.
As far as prison reform goes, Moran sums it up very well in chapter 13 on page 121 when he writes “We believe, with a high degree of confidence, that adoption of each of our recommendations will not jeopardize the public. Our belief is rooted, in large part, in the experience of other states that have implemented prison or sentencing reforms and/or right-sized their prison populations, including most notably New York.”(Moran, 121) What this is saying is that the ideas and changes Moran present in this book, he believes, will not put the people of Connecticut in danger but instead will make it better on different levels, mainly because it has been implemented well in many other states with very favorably results.
As far as the book, The Justice Imperative, goes I have to say that it was an amazing book. It opened my eyes to so many issues that I didn’t know about in Connecticut’s justice system and provided strong and necessary ideas of changes and reforms that should be made to make it better. Brian E. Moran provided very valid points that made me understand many aspects of the system that I didn’t understand and overall the book was just a fun read. Even though it was mainly facts, data, and statistics it was presented in such an interesting manner that it made it fun to read. In conclusion, this book was able to change my perspective on things and made me see things, such as prison sentences, incarceration, and release from prison, from a different side and realize that all of those items have various flaws and issues within them that need to be dealt with.
- Moran, B. (2014). Will Reform Threaten the Safety of Connecticut Citizens? In The Justice Imperative: How Hyper-Incarceration Has Hijacked the American Dream (1st ed., Vol. 1, p. 121). Connecticut: Significance Press.