Not This Time Not Next Time:
National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2010
The National Criminal Justice Commission Act is unlikely to reach the Senate this year. A house version was approved in July; read a review of the bill HERE
The Senate version, text below, would have set up similar opportunities for cooler heads to prevail in our national criminal-justice-prison complex.
--Reported to Senate amended. National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2010 - Establishes the National Criminal Justice Commission to undertake a comprehensive review of all areas of the criminal justice system, including federal, state, local, and tribal governments' criminal justice costs, practices, and policies. Directs the Commission to: (1) make findings regarding its review and recommendations for changes in oversight, policies, practices, and laws designed to prevent, deter, and reduce crime and violence, improve cost-effectiveness, and ensure the interests of justice; (2) conduct public hearings in various locations around the United States; (3) consult with federal, state, local, and tribal government and nongovernmental leaders and other stakeholders in the criminal justice system, including the U.S. Sentencing Commission; and (4) submit a final report, within 18 months after its formation, to Congress, the President, and state, local, and tribal governments, and make such report available to the public. Expresses the sense of Congress that the Commission should work toward unanimously supported findings and recommendations. Sets forth the membership composition of the Commission and its administrative provisions. Exempts the Commission from the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Requires all records and papers of the Commission to be deposited into the National Archives. Authorizes appropriations for FY2010-2011. Terminates the Commission 60 days after it submits its final report to Congress.
It isn’t likely the Republican controlled congress will enact such a bill, though they might, and here’s why, and here’s how the whole great idea can go straight to hell.
A commission such as this becomes a thing of its own. It has no real power, it only seeks to inform congress.
At first glance, how can we go wrong? After all, a clear eyed view of the criminal justice system will reveal that, in the Land O’ th’ Free, it’s pretty easy to go to jail, particularly if you are poor, and most especially if you are a person of color. Prison is the one thing we like to give plenty of to poor people. Don’t take my word for it, do a google search.
But, let’s consider that they are not going to comb the prisons, jails, foster homes or homeless camps for people to be on this commission. Very likely, those assigned to this commission are going to be “experts” of the other sort, experts at creating a job to retirement at defining, apprehending, processing and housing people who serve the function “criminal”.
That, my sisters and brothers, should make the short hairs stand right up. The last thing we need is more of the poison that made us this sick.
It is impossible to underestimate two things: 1. The power of authority to define people and things, and 2. The tenacity of someone whose fat job is at risk. Giving a larger voice to the very people who made us Number One among civilized nations for imprisoning our own people is probably not a smart thing. It would be like leaving birth control and sexually transmitted disease prevention to people who never have sex, or haven’t had sex for years. It simply doesn’t make sense.
Consider again the role of the commission:
(1) make findings regarding its review and recommendations for changes in oversight, policies, practices, and laws designed to prevent, deter, and reduce crime and violence, improve cost-effectiveness, and ensure the interests of justice;
(2) conduct public hearings in various locations around the United States;
(3) consult with federal, state, local, and tribal government and nongovernmental leaders and other stakeholders in the criminal justice system, including the U.S. Sentencing Commission;
Now, give this to one person, he sees “improve cost-effectiveness” as “privatize prisons.” The very, very last thing we should encourage is for corporations to take over criminal justice. “Cost effective” is shoot the lot of them. We are reminded that Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the model for cost effective busting-at-the-seems jails spends more per meal to feed his K-9 dogs than he does to feed the humans in his care.
We’ve got a belly full of laws intended to “prevent, deter, and reduce crime.” By far the quickest way to reduce crime is to strike all penal laws off the books. An increase in crime and criminals is always related to an increase in prohibitive laws. We would save billions on judges, attorneys, prisons, and a host of other hangers-on if we simply did away with criminal laws.
Unfortunately, then all those highly paid criminal pimps would have to learn to steal to survive. Robbery, if there still were such a thing, would be through the roof.
And, indeed, that is the key ingredient to making the entire idea of a commission which would gather facts, actually work. The commission would absolutely have to provide a job for all the people who presently keep the prison industrial complex going. You simply can’t toss that many professionals, many of them armed, into unemployment. If you are going to revise the system, there better be jobs in the revision.
Currently, the only group more powerful in the field than prisons guards and attorneys might be social workers and doctors. If the commission found we were all a little nuts and needed treatment instead of prison, change is possible.
But, what kind of change is that? It’s the change from a bitter pill to a large, waxy suppository.
Frankly, a lot of people would rather just get a good beating from the cops instead of going to anger management. You can always buy teeth, but your self-image is priceless.
It’s not easy to be optimistic in the postmodern age, in fact, it isn’t always easy to know what you want. Do we want a commission on criminal justice? Is there any way things can get worse without one?
Good luck on this.