Are Violent Offenders Escaping the Criminal Justice System?

It always amazes us when people have inflated opinions about the capacities of the criminal justice system. Watch any evening television show about criminal investigation and you have a plethora of young, great looking people using the latest technology solving crimes and capturing bad guys.
They come up with more clever lines in 30 seconds then we do in a year.

For those of us within the criminal justice system, however, we see a cumbersome series of agencies who do the best they can with declining budgets; it sure ain’t rocket science and it bears little to no resemblance to CSI Milwaukee.

The Chicago Sun-Times offered a recent article on what’s closer to reality regarding large urban criminal justice systems, here are some excerpts;

“This is the story of why they won’t stop shooting in Chicago.”

“It’s told by the wounded, the accused and the officers who were on the street during a weekend in April 2008 when 40 people were shot, seven fatally.”

“Two years later, the grim reality is this: Nearly all of the shooters from that weekend have escaped charges.”

“So far, not one accused shooter has been convicted of pulling the trigger during those deadly 59 hours from April 18-20 of that year, a Chicago Sun-Times investigation has found.”

“Six murders from that 2008 weekend remain unsolved. And time’s running out to catch the bad guys who shot 29 other people that weekend because there’s a three-year statute of limitations on aggravated batteries with firearms.”

My criminology professor told us decades ago that “What happens in New York does not necessarily mean that it happens elsewhere,” and his observation was correct. There are jurisdictions throughout the country that are properly funded and find ways to investigate crimes and successfully prosecute violent offenders.

Every jurisdiction chooses not to prosecute a percentage of those arrested but it depends on resources and percentages as to whether public safety is harmed.

But the suspicion of criminologists is that there are more than just a couple urban criminal justice systems that are in deep organizational and financial difficulties. The account below comes courtesy of the Philadelphia Inquirer and was carried previously on Crime in America.Net. “What happens when a major player in the criminal justice system breaks ranks with their partners?
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, “That’s what happened when Former District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, stung by reports that her office had consistently low conviction rates, defended her performance Monday and criticized the rest of the city’s criminal justice system as riddled with “deeply troubling” problems.”
“Abraham, who left office in January after 18 years, cited widespread witness fear, a massive fugitive problem, a dysfunctional bail system, and the dismissal of thousands of cases annually with no ruling on the merits.”
“Speaking at a hearing of a U.S. Senate subcommittee…, Abraham faulted Philadelphia judges as being too lenient and too quick to toss out cases. She criticized defense lawyers for “gaming the system” through deliberate delays aimed at wearing down victims and witnesses.” She blasted a bail system that allows fugitives to skip court with virtual impunity. And she faulted court clerks for shoddy record-keeping that has thwarted the city’s efforts to collect nearly $1 billion in forfeited bail.”

In another previous post on Crime in America.Net, we cited a related article from the Philadelphia Inquirer. We stated that Philadelphia is an example of how justice can get bogged down to such a degree as to have an impact on an entire metropolitan area.

The Inquirer cites a considerable number of data sources indicating that, “Philadelphia defendants walk free on all charges in nearly two-thirds of violent-crime cases. Among large urban counties, Philadelphia has the nation’s lowest felony-conviction rate.”

Budget cuts are rearranging the way we do business. The criminal justice system is changing before our eyes through a budget reduction process lasting for a decade or more.

So when you hear that the justice system is this heavy-handed semi-brutal series of organizations that ruthlessly goes after and incarcerates too many people, the assertion rings a bit hollow for many of us.

To us, the system is barely holding on in many cities. To us, we see problems far more than efficiencies.

We “may” arrest too much and we “may” incarcerate inappropriately, but to do that you have to catch them (most crime is not reported) and you have to successfully prosecute them.

And our ability to do both seems to be on the decline in more than a couple areas in this country. If we were honest about it; it’s been in decline for over a decade.

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