Balko has an article at the Huffington Post about the fact that criminal justice issues are almost always ignored in presidential campaigns — and in most political campaigns above the local level, for that matter — other than to issue perpetual calls for stronger, harsher and more punitive measures. He lists some of the issues that need to be talked about:
There are other problems. The onset of DNA testing has revealed that our criminal justice system is more flawed and prone to error than most of the country probably suspected. The gaps in the system that produced the wrongful convictions uncovered by DNA testing are undoubtedly at work in other cases as well.
Other issues we won’t hear about in this election: The common perception that prison rape is part of the punishment that comes with a felony conviction. The disturbing amount of prosecutorial misconduct within the Department of Justice–and the lack of accountability for the prosecutors who cheat.
There’s an important debate to be had about privatizing prisons, and whether it’s wise to have a government-created industry with a bottom line dependent on keeping as many people locked up for as long as possible. There’s the vastly under-reportednational scandal of corrupt crime labs and corrupted forensic evidence. The latest incident involves a crime lab technician in Massachusetts who may have faked thousands of drug tests.
We’re in a 30-year trend toward police militarization, a phenomenon that has been driven by federal incentives.
Neither Obama nor Romney have said a word about these issues. How could they? Romney has to please law-and-order conservatives and Obama’s record on these issues is nothing short of appalling (his administration, for example, has argued against a right to access DNA evidence that could prove an inmate’s innocence and in favor of absolute prosecutorial immunity). But Balko rightly blames a public that is both ignorant and apathetic about this sort of thing:
Politicians are risk-averse creatures of habit. For decades they’ve been trained to mutter the same soundbites about crime. Polls show America’s opinions on many of these issues are shifting, but few people actually vote on them. And the people most affected when the crime policy pendulum swings too far toward government power aren’t large enough in number or stature to force a debate.
These aren’t commercial-ready, culture warring, fundraising issues like something some candidate said about rape, funding for Big Bird, or whether or not Clint Eastwood is losing his mind. They’re difficult, important, and — especially for the communities they affect most — they’re immensely consequential. But until there’s a penalty at the polls for looking the other way, most candidates will avoid the political risks that come with tackling them.
All true, and tragic. That’s one reason why I write and speak on those subjects so often, because I think people need to know just how about America’s criminal injustice system really is — and how much it is damaging the country.
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