Sunday, December 18, 2005

Our Criminal Justice System

My friend, Terry Truax, partner with Jenner and Block in Chicago and a member of the Breakthrough board, sent me an email with these interesting facts about our criminal justice system from a book by Steve Bogira, Courtroom 302, A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse.
1. In 2003, 19,299 inmates were processed through the Cook County jail into the state penitentary system (up from 15,529 in 1997). The largest portion of the newly sentenced prisoners are drug offenders.

2. 80% of those sentenced are African American, again, mostly involving drug cases. Most of the people prosecuting the cases, defending the cases, and running the system are white.

3. The jail population at the Cook County jail is 11,000, mostly because of drug cases.

4. A felony conviction basically disqualifies you from most jobs, and eliminates you from CHA housing.
It seems to me we need to be asking the question, "why". As I have become familiar with neighborhoods like East Garfield Park in Chicago, which has one of the highest percentages of formerly incarcerated drug offenders, I have learned that drug trafficking has become the economic base for many in the community. Without adequate education, employment training and opportunities, drug dealing is paying the rents. Solutions are complicated and involve radical social transformation as well as personal redemption and hope.

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