Tag Archives: Roger W. Smith some thoughts about the criminal justice system

some thoughts about the criminal justice system


Posted on the New York Times website yesterday in response to an article in the Times about the decision to deny parole to Judith Clark, who was convicted of felony murder for her involvement in the 1981 Brink’s robbery and was sentenced to 75 years to life imprisonment.

— Roger W. Smith

   April 23, 2017




4.4% of the world’s population live in the United States, which we claim is the land of the free.

But, in the land of the free, we have 22% of the world’s prison population.

So, why do we say the US is the land of the free?

Our prison system is not designed to rehabilitate anyone. Nor is our criminal justice system, which has nothing to do with justice.

Our courts, prisons and parole system are all about punishment and revenge.



Paula in Michigan

What of the forgiveness that the Bible teaches us, especially in the New Testament? Are we not a Christian society? And if we are, are we only to pick and choose the verses of revenge to follow, and throw away the verse of forgiveness?

If that is what you believe, then you are no better than the radicals that preach hate such as ISIS, Boko Haram, or Al-Qaeda that incites the violence we are seeing daily around the world. The conservatives are always talking about how our country is built on Christian beliefs, but the conservatives are not very Christian.



F.H. in Munich, Germany

The principle of retaliation and the mirror principle are ideas of how criminal justice should work that go back to ancient times, retaliation also being a biblical concept. Willingly, albeit sometimes reluctant to admit that, many Americans seem to bask in such ancient concepts of punishment and justice.

I have the impression that a lot of people prefer interminable and capital punishment to quench their very personal thirst for what they call justice to a modern and much more sensible approach to lowering overall crime rates, thus making societies safer and “cities upon hills” whose positive examples want to be copied by other nations, which are no democracies yet.

If all these interminable imprisonments did anything to make the streets and homes safer, then why is it that almost all European countries, where punishments are mostly much milder and the overall incarceration rates are much lower than in the US, are much safer places than the US and have a tremendously lower murder rate than the US?

Vengeance has never been a good guideline to set a criminal justice system right. Open mindedness and real rehabilitation have already stood the test of being a much better approach to address crime. Last but not least, they are a direct consequence of ‘inalienable’ human rights.


Roger W. Smith

Excellent points. The disparity in length of sentences between the US and, say, the UK and Western Europe are egregious. Few commentators take note of this.



Kenneth Miller in New York City

The parole board wants to keep a symbol in jail: “You are still a symbol of a terroristic crime.” But for this they are condemning a human being, not a symbol, one who has by all accounts undergone a remarkable growth and transformation in her years in prison and become someone of great service and commitment to others.

Nothing justifies her crime but if we have the slightest belief in the idea of rehabilitation or redemption, the human being she is now deserves freedom, even though the young and undeveloped woman she once was is a symbol of something that deserves punishment.

Roger W. Smith

Yes. As William Blake pointed out, the particular matters — PEOPLE do. This is also true of those sentenced to death. “General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer” [Blake]. Judith Clark is (as were the victims of the crime she participated in) a person. Excellent points, well made.



William Meyers in Point Arena, CA

Murder is hard to forgive. It is odd that those assigned by society to engage in it on a regular basis — the police and military — are the least willing to forgive. The rebels of the Confederacy were forgiven. The war criminals of the Philippines War and Vietnam War were mostly never prosecuted. Harry Truman nuked two cities of civilians and was treated as a hero.


Ira Loewy in Miami

There are many inmates presently serving life sentences for non-violent drug offenses, some under so-called three strike laws. Before getting bent out of shape about a woman partially responsible for three heinous murders (whether she pulled the trigger or not as a willing participant in the crime she is at least partially responsible), people should wonder why inmates who are far less culpable than her remain behind bars. We need a system wide revision of sentencing regimes which warehouse people who are capable of being rehabilitated and returning to society.



Jan de Leeuw in Portland, OR

Prison sentences protect society from further asocial acts, until the person involved is rehabilitated. To use them as retribution is barbaric. After the Old Testament came the New Testament.