Dollar bills fuel criminal justice system

Opinion column

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

Just as every cop is a criminal, and all the sinners saints.

— The Rolling Stones

One of my favorite lines by late comedian Richard Pryor: "I go down to the courthouse looking for justice, and that's what I see: Just us."

The great comedian's one-liner certainly tickled plenty of funny bones in its day, but it also serves as a telling commentary on perhaps the most broken element of this country's foundation: our criminal justice system.

Pryor's observation notwithstanding, the devolution of the American justice system, circa 2013, has less to do with race, more to do with dollar bills. Forget the biblical admonition about the difficulty wealthy people face as they seek heaven. Heaven's a much more likely locale for the wealthy than the inside of a prison.

The perversion that passes for justice in this country is the byproduct of a corrupt government whose motivation is less the greater good, more the number of zeroes on the contribution checks. Left to contend with the fallout are judges and law enforcement agencies whose efforts at reform are thwarted by a system that rewards some of its most notorious criminals simply for their impressive bank accounts.

The nation's judges are asked to find creative ways to punish offenders without overcrowding the penal system, which is full to overflowing mostly because of an antiquated "war on drugs" whose surrender should have come several decades ago. In their efforts to meet the dictates of numbers crunchers in the seats of power, the jurists find themselves faced with sentencing schedules that do more to perpetuate recidivism than to eliminate it.

The ever-thinner blue line out on the streets, meanwhile, sees the fruits of some of its best investigative and enforcement efforts negated by sentences that must leave officers wondering just what it means for them to put their lives on the line.

Case in point: An offender captured by Albany officers recently was booked into the Dougherty County Jail on a laundry list of charges worthy of a place of honor on a post office wall. A check — and subsequent double-check — of the offender's bail availability on the jail's automated system showed that the suspect was being held in lieu of a surprisingly small sum of money, an amount, in fact, that's about equivalent to the chump change many criminals facing such charges carry around loose in their khakis.

(Jail Director Col. John Ostrander informed me Tuesday that a glitch in the jail's automated system showed a "0" amount for people booked on unbondable offenses. When suspects facing multiple charges are booked, bond amounts for less serious crimes were being added to the zeroes, implying that such inmates could be released on a low bond. Ostrander said he's already gotten with the system's vendor, which has rewritten code to account for the misinformation.)

As citizens become aware of criminal activity in their community, their natural inclination is to point fingers. Many of them make law enforcement their scapegoat, wondering why the cops can't manage to keep the bad guys off the streets. Others — including many who wear badges and carry guns — say the fault lies with judges whose lenient sentences put hardened criminals back on the streets before the ink on arrest reports has even dried.

The only answer that truly makes sense, though, is reform, drastic reform. A good start would be the decriminalization of marijuana, which if implemented retroactively would instantly take care of the overcrowding of the penal system. The next step would be to hold citizens to a set of legal standards that applies across the board, from those on the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder to the criminals who wear $5,000 suits and hold the keys to the nation's largest bank vaults.

Unleash the judges and let them hand out sentences that fit the crimes, not the social register. Reward law enforcement officers for their efforts by showing them that their work is not in vain, that the bad guys they caught will spend time behind bars.

Then, and only then, will the concept of "crime does not pay" be more than the punchline for a sad joke.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.


Sister_Ruby 2 years, 7 months ago

One of my favorite lines by late comedian Richard Pryor: "I go down to the courthouse looking for justice, and that's what I see: Just us."

I don't care who you are. Just do right and you will be OK. If you Firetruck Up then you will be appearing at the courthouse. Not a problem in my book unless the Judge doesn't take it seriously.

Fletcher sure wants to suck on that weed it seems, despite any denials he makes.


Abytaxpayer 2 years, 7 months ago

"A good start would be the decriminalization of marijuana". Set my people free......Spoken like a true pothead.

Too bad Carlton could not try..Don't do the crime and you won't do the time.....


waltspecht 2 years, 7 months ago

Approximately 10% of all illegal drug activity is intridicted by the war on Drugs. Most of that 10% are low level folks. This does fill the jails. Ever wonder how full the jails would be if everyone that ever did it were incarcerated? Heck a couple of our Presidents would be in there. So the idea to legalize and tax drugs, much like alochol and cigarettes, makes economic sense. Now the rub, take all those offenders out of the loop, and you have way to many jails, Judges, Lawyers, Prosecutors, Public Defenders, Police, Rehab programs and Prison Guards. What are they going to do for a living? Carlton is right, it is the dollar that runs the system. Both for privilage, and for employment.


RedEric 2 years, 7 months ago

Marijuana was made illegal to make it easier to arrest minorities. Anslinger admitted it. Marijuana has a lot of commercial uses. The oil makes a very good paint, ropes, clothing etc. beside medical uses. George Washington grew it for medical uses. Making it illegal is an excellent law enforcement tool. They catch someone with MJ and they can negotiate that into useful information on really bad people. That is a very bad reason to make anything illegal.


erock 2 years, 7 months ago

Well there you have it. Another brainstorming session from my one of my favorite leftist. I love you Carlton, bless your heart and keep me laughing. I don't even read Garfield anymore, nothing he has ever done can top your columns


Cartman 2 years, 7 months ago

Carlton. Everyone knows that I am not one to criticize. And I understand that everyone has an off-day. But that doesn't explain this almost incoherent, unfocused, rambling, multi-subject, mixed-message, twelve-paragraph squawk that you presented as an opinion piece.


Jacob 2 years, 7 months ago

"A good start would be the decriminalization of marijuana, which if implemented retroactively would instantly take care of the overcrowding of the penal system"

LOL. Never one to let facts get in your way, are you?


Jax 2 years, 7 months ago

Can you please be more specific? Do you not believe that a large % of prison/jail population is comprised of low-level drug offenders? Do you think that a plant is inherently dangerous and should remain illegal? Just what are the facts you speak of?


Jacob 2 years, 7 months ago

Sure. Here is a quote from the last comprehensive study by the U.S BOJ,

BJS noted that in 1997 marijuana was involved in the conviction of only 2.7 percent of all state inmates. About 1.6 percent of the state prison population were held for offenses involving just marijuana, while just 0.7 percent were incarcerated with marijuana possession as the only charge. Further narrowing the field, by excluding those prisoners with criminal histories, BJS found that only 0.3 percent of all state inmates were first time


whattheheck 2 years, 7 months ago

I'm not sure, perhaps its just me, but this may be one of the worst pieces you have written. But, since it is an opinion piece, I'll just chalk it up to another opinion that ain't worth much to most of the public not normally residing on the wrong side of the bars in the nick.


FryarTuk 2 years, 7 months ago

I agree almost totally with the commentary by Fuzz Face. I would make District Federal Judges tenured for 6 years. The South Georgia Federal bench has certainly conformed to your criticism of the influence of money. Examples, a white businessman robs a bank and gets 2 years, a wealthy white pharmacist is convicted of 69 counts of medicaid fraud (millions and millions stolen) doesn't go to jail and keeps most of the loot. WHAT IS RIGHT ABOUT THIS? Nothing absolutely nothing. A black man goes before that bench for these crimes and his head is handed to him on a plastic platter.


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