Let's Quit Pretending there is "Justice For All" (Editorial)
Personal experience has led me to believe that their is an inherent love of justice from those who've dedicated their lives to the study of law. Putting theory and love to the side and weighing the reality of practices in Missouri and specifically the 38th Circuit Court on a scale of truth we are forced to come to the inevitable conclusion that many are left out of the promise to fair and equal treatment.
The reality is, lady justice has taken her blindfold off and targeted her eyes on the wallets of the accused.
Make no mistake, it's the poor that inhabit our prisons, at the expense of taxpayers while the wealthy are most certainly released on bail. Our courts are bogged down and the caseloads of the prosecutors, judges and especially the public defenders office provide a burden beyond reasonable capacity.
To the Missouri Bar's credit, the issue has been addressed with verbal and written acknowledgment that the Public Defender system is overburdened. The jail's are no different. Reports from the Taney County Jail over the last few weeks include accusations of untreated staph infection, inmates defecating in plastic buckets and confirmation that some cells are secured with handcuffs instead of proper locks. In the event of a fire, the death of inmates appears imminent (as has happened before when the jail was ablaze).
The press has reserved its right to remain silent, after all - addressing prison conditions is no way to win a popularity contest. The presumption of innocence is not known to the jury of public opinion - but it should be. After all, thats what separates us from the unrighteous nations - does it not?
The right to fair treatment under the legal system is a basic tenant of American citizenship and one apparently forgotten. And if the practice is imbalanced by wealth instead of virtue- fiscal might not what is right - we spit on the graves of our forefathers who sacrificed their lives and pronounce their visions of "unalienable right" but a dream. If we are to continue this path let us change the constitution to read - "rights alienable by account balance" and erase creator from our founding documents lest we promote the name in vain.
A few weeks ago I interviewed local Attorney Russ Schenewerk on the issue of Missouri's failing public defender system. He had some good ideas about how attorneys can alleviate the pressure placed on our system.
The Missouri Legislature can help by making enabling leeway to the Judicial and trusting in our judges ability to be creative and act with discernment. They can also reduce pressure by redrawing district lines and creating a new circuit court in Taney County.
For the Taney County Commission and the Sherrif's office, a higher standard must be adhered to. The Sherrif's job is to take protect ALL the citizens and the Commission to oversee all county functions, including protecting those the county has taken into their care.
The prison industry is big business and promises to grow as capturing and housing illegal immigrants becomes a greater priority. We've been told hosting inmates will provide a new revenue stream though presently we're burdened with new taxes.
In many ways we're moving in a positive direction. A new jail is being built in Taney County and the facilities being constructed promise both more humane treatment and security. Reports regarding Missouri's new sentencing guidelines point to lower overall cost and decreased recidivism rates.
During a conversation with a Missouri judge last month I was reminded, "not all who haven't been tried are innocent." This is true, whoever commits a crime is guilty, but not all those charged are guilty.
Until the American system is applied we must presume innocence and if I were a politician whose responsibility included overseeing a imprisoned population I'd go to great efforts to ensure facilities were safe and humane. After all, if an untried man dies through their inaction they will be tried for wrongful death as sure as I draft this note on American soil.