CRIMINAL INJUSTICE in AMERICA
Essays by a Career Cop
by Marshall Frank
August, 1956. North Miami Beach, Florida. I walked into the bedroom and saw Bernie sitting in his underwear on the edge of his bed with a perennial Tiparillo cigar clench in his teeth, hunched, counting stacks of money in twenty, fifty and one-hundred dollar bills. Next to the bed were a night stand with telephone, a stack of flash paper and a pencil, tools of the trade for a bookie. I asked my stepfather, “What’s going on, Bernie?”
He snickered and waved a few hundreds in the air. “It’s an election year.”
His response confused me. “Election year?”
“I gotta send money to Tallahassee. Attorney General, Governor, whatever.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
He looked up at me with a wry grin. “Gotta keep gambling illegal. Or I’ll be out of business.”
“Ah. I see.”
* * *
Most of us know a lot about some things but very little about everything. I know a little about the criminal justice system because I lived it, twenty-four hours a day for thirty years. It was my bread and butter, my business, my social network, my source of self-esteem, my accomplishments and failures, humor and sadness. I dreamed it, obsessed it, ate it, drank it, loved it and hated it. So did my spouses, so did my kids. It also helped destroy a marriage.
Not until I started researching this book did I learn how little I really knew. Previously, my information came from the inside of the proverbial fish bowl. Now, from the outside, I see more clearly. The problems with our criminal justice system are not just overwhelming; they are colossal and seemingly insurmountable. They should not, and cannot, be ignored. If so, an already horrendous situation will only get worse, and thousands — no, millions — will suffer unnecessarily in this never-ending ocean of quicksand. We must adopt a new outlook. Ways to fix the system do exist and can be implemented. Our country can reduce crime and streamline justice so the American people will be safer and fewer people will need to be caged like animals for the better part of their lives. All it takes is an open mind and a huge effort toward a new way of thinking.
This work is not intended to be an egghead’s textbook of footnotes, quotations, charts, graphs, bibliographies and citations. Plenty of other publications do that. This is primarily a book of opinions, essays and ideas concerning the abundance of problems within the criminal justice arena, and what I think could/should be done about them.
My career involved several aspects of law enforcement: working the streets, investigating major crimes, dealing with courts and prosecutors, handling evidence, arresting criminals, aiding victims, knowing criminals, testifying and dealing with public and political pressures. I have seen the outgrowth of violent crime, drug abuse, child abuse and corruption, the endless heartaches, the enormous cost to taxpayers, the misery of victims and their families.
It is one thing to identify a problem. Anyone can do that. It’s another to do something about it. In the justice system, very few have. In fact, very little has been done to alleviate any problems other than to pass tougher laws.
It is my intent to try and identify the root of justice-related issues and to present alternative solutions. The book is replete with nontraditional ideas and innovative approaches. But I also live in the real world and know the likelihood of seeing these ideas come to fruition is close to nil. Not in my lifetime, anyway. All things being possible, I offer utopia — the wish list. I call it: “If I Had The Magic Wand, I would...”
An array of proposals are offered at the conclusion of several chapters under that heading. I feel confident that if such a Magic Wand did exist, crime in America would be cut nearly in half, prisons would no longer be housing people who don’t belong there and the cost savings to taxpayers would be in the multi-billions.
My opinions and conclusions are unedited, unscripted and free-spoken. They are born of the mind and heart, not the pocket book. Sure, I want to sell this book, but more importantly, I want to sell these ideas. I wish more retired cops and other retirees from the justice system would speak out.
All those thoughts and feelings that were suppressed over the years are now unleashed. Sometimes I veer from the stereotypical right wing persona which is tagged to most colleagues in law enforcement. I very much like to think and study beyond conventional standards. Some call it, “outside the box.” I also believe in fixing what is broken and in changing the status quo because systems and methods that never change eventually become stagnant.
The justice system is not just about criminals and victims, courts and prisons; it also involves politics, media and millions of average human beings who suddenly, and often inadvertently, get caught up in the mesh. I address many “hot button” issues.
Since retirement, I’ve learned much more about the criminal justice system than I ever knew being part of it.
I’ve learned there’s more to fighting crime than making laws that are unenforceable.
I’ve learned that many of the conventional efforts for curbing crime do more to exacerbate the problem than to solve it.
I’ve learned that many of our court systems are ineffective because their methods and procedures are mired in colonial times.
I’ve learned that millions of well-meaning people believe anything deemed immoral should also be deemed illegal, but that’s not always the solution.
I’ve learned how the justice system is big business, perpetuated in part by senseless laws which do more to ruin people’s lives than improve them.
I’ve learned that prisons are a multi-billion dollar industry which would collapse if there was a sudden downturn in inmate residency.
I’ve learned most lawmakers are less interested in reducing crime than in presenting a “tough-on-crime” facade to voting blocks comprised of the “moral majority.”
I’ve learned politics and law enforcement cannot mix because corruption is then unavoidable. Join with me in this most unusual journey to the other side of criminal justice, a side that you may never have thought about. While you may find these positions somewhat bizarre, with deeper insight and study you will see these issues in a new and different light. The cornerstone of progress is change and innovation, whether in science, government or anything else. Many of our founding fathers, great inventors, artists and statesmen were considered bizarre and out of the mainstream at one time, until history proved them to be correct.
The criminal justice system is desperately fractured, while Americans turn a blind eye. Unless American citizens are personally swept up in a criminal justice matter, they — frankly speaking — don’t give a damn. Out of sight, out of mind. The founding fathers never dreamed that, one day, the prison inmate population would exceed the total resident population of all the New England and Mid Atlantic states combined in 1790.
Meanwhile, we — the American people and our representatives — are doing little or nothing to change anything in the system as we progress into the 21st century.
While the system can’t be fixed totally, it can be updated and made manageable for all Americans, including those we deem as criminals. All we have to do is...what else?
Think...you got it; outside the box.
©2002 Marshall Frank