Op. Ed: The Criminal Justice System’s Failure To Rehabilitate

By: Miles McDavitt

According to a 2012 report by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, more than 65% of those released from California’s prison system return within three years.  

No other first world country even comes close to that. So then we are left to ask ourselves, why? It’s simple, the American justice system is not designed to rehabilitate, it’s designed to punish.

While it’s clear just how the American justice system is failing its people. It’s not a simple fix, coming down to the very fabric of its existence. The justice system, more specifically the imprisonment system, was designed to fail it’s people. 

So, where do you start? The purpose of our justice system should be to rehabilitate those that can be, and the numbers show us that is just not the case. 

To this day, there are still people in prison on possession, not dealing, possession of marijuana charges. A substance that is now totally legal in 17 states, 37 counting medicinal marijuana usage. How can we say it’s our goal to bring ex-convicts back into society when people are still in prison for something that is no longer illegal?

Recently, current Vice President Kamala Harris was exposed for her role in a 2011 scandal as attorney general. Attorney General Harris was ordered to reduce the population of California’s overcrowded prisons, to which lawyers from California Harris’ office responded by making the argument that many non-violent offenders had to stay incarcerated, or else the prison system would lose a valuable source of inexpensive labor. 

When the supreme court ruled against it in Brown vs. Plata (see attached link for details), Harris’ lawyers argued that if certain potential parolees were given a faster track out of prison, it would negatively affect the prison’s labor programs, including one that allowed certain inmates to fight wildfires in California for around $2 a day. 

Again, how can we say it is our goal to bring ex-convicts back into society when we have lawyers arguing to extend the sentences of minimum custody inmates simply for the use of near free labor? 

While it is true Harris’ lawyers were denied, the fact that this argument was even considered plausible and almost passed should show us the true intentions of America’s criminal justice system.

Ultimately, there are many more examples that could be named to support the argument that America’s criminal justice system never had the intention of rehabilitation. While there may be some things America’s justice system gets right, in the end it doesn’t change that our justice system needs reformation on a vast scale.

 It is our job as citizens to push for that change, otherwise bills like that of then-California Attorney General Harris will continue to be proposed and passed.

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