The criminal justice system in this Country is a mess, to which no one can reasonably deny. America has more prisoners than any other Country in the World, including dictatorships, Communist Governments, and all of the western world. Nearly 47 million Americans have a criminal record which stigmatizes them in the community and makes it very difficult to obtain quality employment.
There are a number of reasons why this is the case. For one, penalties in this Country for drug possession are obscene. A person arrested for possessing cocaine, without any intent of selling it, should not face a lifetime in prison. Another cause for the high rate of prisoners, can be seen in our Rhode Island system. Probation and Bail Violators face automatic prison stays, at least until the underlying case can be resolved. In Rhode Island, you do not need to break a law to be a probation violator. If you are in the wrong place at the wrong time and fail “to keep the peace” in the eyes of the police and attorney general, then you are a probation violator and are going to jail.
Clearly, there is no easy solution. I did come across, an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times, however. Lawyer and writer, Amy Bach, proposed a “Justice Index” to evaluate and score how well the criminal courts are working. Considering that we grade schools, hospitals, and other public services, it seems reasonable to grade the criminal justice system as well.
Some of the standards for grading quality she proposes are: average bail amounts; the percentage of accused who plead guilty without an attorney; percentage of certain cases which are dismissed; the nature and quality of legal protections (i.e. State law regarding the use of certain evidence); and effect on crime reduction.
I can see benefit in this system if poor results would generate legislative and judicial changes for the better. It is unreasonable to believe that the scores would influence where people choose to live or how they act in the community. Nevertheless, it is an interesting idea.