The Economic Consequences of Justice

Advocates often struggle with the concept of Justice. Too often, our clients fail to get it. So few perpetrators are held accountable through arrest, let alone through conviction or a sentence in any proportion to the crime. The criminal system is set up to protect the rights of the accused; even the convicted are protected from “cruel and unusual punishment.” So when it comes to perpetrators of violence actually suffering the consequences of justice, I’m all for it.

But as the old adage says, “Be careful what you wish for…you just might get it.” What happens when Justice isn’t…well…JUST?

I know of an infant child who was severely shaken by his father, so as to cause serious internal injury. The wheels of justice turned swiftly in this matter: the father was arrested within hours of the injury becoming known to authorities, a “no contact” bail order was put in place, child protection swung into action to protect the other siblings and adult victim of domestic violence. The father now faces 25-50 years in prison for multiple injuries perpetrated; the prosecution is so confident of their case that 25-50 is the “deal” that was offered him. Awesome. Finally, the “bad guy” gets what he deserves. Assuming that everything goes “right” and the jury convicts, that child will get the Justice the State says he has coming to him.

Until we take a look at what Justice REALLY means. “Justice” means that the father—this violent man who believes he has the right to take his parenting frustrations out on an infant child—will be well-cared for well into his elderly years. He will have a roof over his head, utilities, and three square meals a day. He will receive medical, dental and mental health services, and will even be able to pursue further education if he so chooses. Sure, baby beaters aren’t treated very favorably in prison, but chances are he will be put in seclusion to prevent another cell mate from cracking a few of his ribs. And he will have a defense attorney that he paid for by cashing in the 401K that was intended for his children’s education.

That baby, however, as well as his mother and siblings, will now be homeless and poverty-stricken, as the mother cannot afford to pay the mortgage on her own. With multiple children under school age, even if Mom had a job, it is not likely that her salary would cover childcare, let alone mortgage, utilities and other living expenses. State welfare will give her cash assistance of approximately $650 per month, and she will receive another $650 per month in food stamps, but how many apartments have you seen that go for $650? And if you think, “What about Section 8,” there’s a waiting list for that—five to seven years at last count.

As non-profit and state welfare programs everywhere are facing funding cuts, it becomes less feasible to expect that mom will be able to receive substantial long-term services to help her keep her family above water. As discussed, the father has already cashed in his children’s best hope for future education, because true to his parenting style, it was more important to save his skin than to think about his children’s bleak future prospects without his support. And with the house being sold to avoid foreclosure, the mother will become legally responsible for any shortfall (well, Dad will, too, technically; but do you really have to worry about your credit score when you’re rotting in jail for the rest of your adult life?).

Suddenly, Justice isn’t looking like justice anymore. In fact, it’s looking like a cruel and unusual prison sentence for the victims, and more like ClubMed for the perpetrator. There must be a better way to achieve justice.

There must be a way to restrict the father’s freedoms of liberty and the pursuit of happiness, while ensuring he pays his debt to society and his family—instead of increasing his family’s and society’s debts (after all, it’s our taxes that pays for his incarceration). He should be forced to remain productive in his chosen career by day (on a monitoring ankle device, of course) and relinquish his entire paycheck: 75% to his family so they can continue to live independent of state welfare, and 25% to the State to pay for his upkeep. If he chooses to fail to work (as so often perpetrators do in order to avoid their obligations), he can be housed on a cot in general population where a different brand of justice can be meted out. Dad can fight for his own safety and survival, instead of that burden falling on an infant, his young siblings, and the baby’s victim mother.

Now THAT’S a consequence of Justice that fits the crime.

©2010 Kathy Jones, DVSur5r