Inequality in the U.S. Justice System

Inequality in the U.S. Justice System

From The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law

The Brennan Center’s Justice Program seeks to secure our nation’s promise of “equal justice for all” by creating a rational, effective, and fair justice system. Its priority focus is to reduce mass incarceration while keeping down crime. The program melds law, policy, and economics to produce new empirical analyses and innovative policy solutions to advance this critical goal.

America’s criminal justice system is in crisis. It is both inequitable, placing a disproportionate burden on communities of color, and extremely expensive, costing $270 billion a year.

What’s more, our current approach is not necessary to protect public safety. Research conclusively shows that high levels of imprisonment are simply not necessary to protect communities. The Brennan Center has found that around 40 percent of America’s prison population is incarcerated with little public safety justification — in other words, they are behind bars unnecessarily.

Understandably, voters across the political spectrum have lost faith in the fair administration of justice, and the urgency of criminal justice reform continues to be a rare point of bipartisan agreement. Despite this voter consensus — and with some notable exceptions — policymakers generally have been slow to respond.

The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America, 2021, by Carol Anderson

The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America, 2021, by Carol Anderson

Reviewed by Merrill Ring, Claremont Forum Board Member

One of the stories about the existence and nature of the Second Amendment is that, since the Founders were opposed to a standing army and rejected Constitutional provisions for one, they fell back on the idea of having citizen militias perform any necessary military functions in the new country. To perform those functions, the Founders needed to make it clear that those militias needed weapons. Given the financial arrangements of the day, that meant that individuals who joined the militias must have their own weapons. Hence the 2ndAmendment.

Today we continue to think of the citizen farmers taking on the Redcoats at Lexington and Concord. However, what Carol Anderson does is to cause us to rethink those notions: was providing a surrogate army the only reason that the 2nd Amendment exists? Does the Lexington-Concord picture of what the militias were expected to do accurately represent what in fact they were? Her book provides a No answer to both questions.

If you look at the debates about the Constitution among the Founders, what is dominant is not the question of what to do in the absence of a standing army. Rather, what the debates were all about is the need to have armed militias to suppress slave revolts and to capture escaped slaves. Here our heroic picture of Patrick Henry (‘Give me liberty or give me death’) is altered: he was the main spokesman for making sure that the maintenance of slavery was protected by arming militias – the Constitution would not have been achieved if he, as the leader of the pro-slavery caucus, had not been satisfied by an amendment allowing armed militias.

If you look, as Anderson does, at what the militias of the day actually did rather than see them through the picture of the Lexington-Concord story, it is clear that they existed as protection against Haitian-type insurrections (a great fear of the slave owners) and that their use was to protect the institution of slave ownership by hunting down those who escaped from their condition.

The bulk of Anderson’s book is taken up with tracing how the 2nd Amendment was used again and again through American history to prohibit Blacks from owning guns. The amendment does not enshrine the right of all citizens to own a weapon (as the Supreme Court thinks) but to give a certain class of Americans the right to own weapons (whether they belong to a militia or not) by denying the right of self-defense to outsiders (“niggers, coolies and Indians” is the phrase used.)

Carol Anderson is the Charles Howard Candler professor of African American Studies at Emory University

Letters from Inmates – Fall 2021

Letters from Prisoners

. . . The Prison Library Project has been very helpful with the service they provide. Plenty of times they have provided me with useful self-help books. Like a dictionary to help with my spelling and help me learn more words. It was needed a lot because I write poetry & would like to write books. . . . when I’m able to get a job I’ll earn more money.
Kenneth M., Lamesa, TX

I want you to know how much your efforts help me. I’m in a place where it’s a struggle daily to keep my mind occupied . . . I enjoy getting so deep into a book that when I look up I’ve been hours in another world, another time, another reality. It’s those times that keep me sane in a place where sanity is in short supply.
Kevin M., Beaumont, TX

Thank you for the dictionary I received. It has helped me a lot. It improved my vocabulary & literacy skills. It inspired personal growth & redemption as in learned & reading spiritual books with big words & vocabulary I didn’t know . . . it allowed me to use prison time more productive . . . it has made a positive change in my life.
Vincent R., Coleman, FL

I cannot begin to tell you just how much books have helped me through the past few years . . . Books are not just an educational tool but also a psychological tool providing an escape from the reality of prison life . . . there are many of us who don’t have family or friends able to order books for us. Thankfully there are amazing organizations like the “Prison Library Project” to help provide books to us . . .
Jonathan E., Beaumont, TX

How to Request a Book

Inmates may write to the Prison Library Project twice a year. Please make sure that you include your inmate ID number when requesting books. The PLP does not process requests made by a third party, inmates must write directly to contact the PLP.

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Prisoners & Addiction

Addiction is common for inmates in prisons. Statistics show that many inmates deal with substance abuse problems, but few actually receive treatment while they are incarcerated. However, addressing substance use disorders during this time and after their release lowers their risk for relapse.

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