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My Child Went to Court—and Instantly Recognized the Racism

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Perhaps the biggest misconception about our criminal justice system is that we are all presumed innocent, and that this presumption is really hard for the government to overcome. One may offer justifications for why our criminal justice system is so large. One may have theories about why certain populations are disproportionately affected. Nevertheless, we believe that no person ends up convicted of a crime, and locked behind bars, without going through a process that ensures a just result. The presumption of innocence is at the heart of our democracy, as are the constitutional protections that force the government to prove that a person no longer deserves that presumption.

The reality is, our system could not be further from that ideal. People are not protected when they are charged with a crime. Instead, they are deposited onto a legal assembly line that whisks them from accusation to conviction. Rather than taking the time to understand the individual and tailoring a just outcome to the circumstances at hand, the criminal justice system views people as case files to be quickly processed and disposed of.

Criminal justice in America is a long, vast conveyor belt. Vulnerable people are dumped onto it at the beginning. By the time they reach the other end, their lives are shattered beyond recognition. The general public is taught that there are rules that govern how a person proceeds through the process. These rules are designed to slow the conveyor belt down. They create opportunities for people to get off the conveyor belt. They ensure that no one reaches the end of the conveyor belt who did not belong on it in the first place.

In reality, the rules are ignored. Rather than presuming innocence, we assume everyone on the conveyor belt deserves to be there. We resent having to use any more resources than are absolutely necessary to get them to the other end. The goal is to do so as quickly as possible, and the rules get in the way. So we figure out how to get around them. If this gets the accused through the conveyor belt more quickly, the ends justify the means.

Why do so many criminal justice professionals go along with this? How have the men and women who are tasked with administering justice in our courts come to participate in a practice that is so inconsistent with this ideal? Until we answer this question, we cannot begin to truly transform our criminal justice system. The answer is........

© The Daily Beast

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