I’ve worked in the criminal justice system for almost 40 years. The media constantly tells us how bad things are: rampant crime, crooked cops, political prosecutors, and abandoned victims. Here are seven reasons why the criminal justice system is better now.
1. The level of serious violent crime is down to a forty-year low. Check out the FBI statistics. Because the media offers a steady diet of crime news, we all get the impression crime is up.
2. The criminal justice system is more fair to everyone than in the past. Of course, there is always the need to improve how justice is delivered to all citizens. But many changes have improved the system.
3. Here are some of the areas that have become more fair for everyone. Particularly, for people of color and poor people. The basis for setting bail has broadened to include different types of backgrounds. The people selected for jury duty now includes members of all races and income levels. The number of Public Defenders and their skills have grown. New laws specifically protect defendants from jury biases. (Like race) There are community groups that monitor the courtrooms to make sure the criminal justice system is fair. One of the best known is Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
4. The judges who hear cases are more diverse than ever. When I began practice, out of about 70 judges, two were female and one was black. There weren’t any Asians or Hispanics. Today, that has flipped upside down. Old, white male judges are in the minority.
5. The incidence of sexual and personal harassment have decreased. People in positions of power have been exposed. Groups that were the victims in these incidents have much more power.
6. Prosecutors and police are also more diversified than ever. The prosecutor’s office has added trained people to help victims with therapy and preparation for trial.
7. The forensic technology has exploded to help find the truth. The most significant is DNA identification.
There is still much to be done to improve the criminal justice system. But I’ve seen tremendous progress in the years since I started working as a lawyer in the courtrooms. If you’re interested, I encourage you to take some time off, attend court hearings, and talk with some of the people working in the system. You’ll be surprised at the new quality and high standards.