by Paul Wright
One of the constants in PLN’s coverage of criminal justice issues since our inception in 1990 has been the disparate, two-tier system of justice in the United States: one system for the wealthy, privileged and politically connected, and another for the poor and unconnected.
In most respects this is hardly news to anyone. I don’t know that anybody in this country believes for even a moment that rich people accused of crimes are treated the same as poor people, much less that they receive equal amounts of justice. Every few years we run a feature article on how wealthy defendants are treated in our judicial system. After publishing our last cover story several years ago, I was surprised that the PBS radio show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” used the story as the basis for one of their episodes. Apparently we do need to keep pointing out the obvious.
Since our prior coverage of this topic, the term “affluenza” has been coined to describe the practice of explaining (and excusing) criminal behavior by the wealthy. Of course the only thing that causes this social affliction is bias by prosecutors and judges. For those interested in a lengthier analysis, check out Prof. Jeffrey Reiman’s longtime classic The Rich Get Richer, The Poor Get Prison. There has been little change since his book was first published in the 1970s; the most significant difference is that more people – overwhelmingly poor people – have become ensnared in our nation’s criminal justice system.
The only thing I don’t like about being editor of PLN is having to report the passing of our friends and allies. On May 3, 2017, Rose Braz, 55, died after a 40-month struggle against brain cancer. Rose was an attorney who practiced criminal defense in the San Francisco Bay area before founding Critical Resistance and serving as its director for 13 years, from 1999 to 2012, then changing her career to combat climate change at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Rose was an eloquent and implacable voice against mass incarceration and human rights abuses in the criminal justice system; she will be sorely missed as a friend and ally in the ongoing struggle against injustice. We send our best wishes to her friends and family.
Meanwhile, we continue to advocate against the exploitation of prisoners and their loved ones. As indicated by the ad on page 47 of this issue of PLN, we are currently seeking former prisoners who received debit cards upon their release that require them to pay fees to access their own funds. We want to challenge the use of fee-based release debit cards and need to hear from people who have received them. If someone you know is nearing release from prison or jail, please tell them about this request.
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