LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Criminal justice reform should include correction and teaching people ways to better their lives

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TO THE EDITOR:

Your editorial of December 2 claimed that crimes in the U.S. are rising. (That’s true this year even though the crime rate has been getting lower since 1990). As a result you stated that we “have to make the punishment fit the crimes.”
You also said that “progressives” want to reform our criminal justice system. Anyone who knows our criminal justice system would definitely want to reform it. I would like to give you an example of the unjust criminal system.
Kalief Prowder, a 16-year-old of Brooklyn, was arrested and accused of stealing a knapsack. At his arraignment he said that he was innocent. The prosecutor offered him plea bargaining. He would be able to go home if he would plead guilty. He refused because he was innocent. The judge sent him to Rikers Island prison to await trial because his family could not pay the $3,000 bail. Imagine, $3,000 for stealing a knapsack!
Kalief spent three years there awaiting his trial. Thirty times his trial was postponed. Prisoners in Rikers often do not see guards for days while gangs rule the place. Kalief was beaten often by guards and by other inmates. He spent two years in solitary confinement.
When Kalief finally had his trial, after three years of living terror, he was found innocent, with no evidence of guilt presented.
After struggling for two years with the trauma of it all Kalief finally was crushed by depression and took his own life.
There are over 5,000 thousand people awaiting trial in Rikers prison because they are poor and cannot afford bail. The better-off people never go to jail to await trial. That is part of the injustice of our criminal justice system.
But basically, the system should not be about “punishment fitting the crime,” but about correction, education, the teaching of non-violence, and other ways of giving people a good image of themselves. There is very little of this in most prisons. This is the reform that Catholic newspapers should be advocating.
The people awaiting trial in Rikers and in prisons across the country are among the poorest in our society. As Pope Francis says in his book “Let Us Dream: “If we do not listen to the voice of the poor, we are no longer the church of Jesus.”

Raymond L. Tetrault, Providence

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