Justice isn’t always pretty

Matthew White

We Americans are pretty safe in our daily lives. At Kent State, we walk downtown to visit bars and restaurants and then back home at night. We walk to our friends’ dorms across campus in the early morning hours. The truth is, even in places that seem safe, nearly anything can happen when we’re alone and it’s dark.

Most of us behave as though muggers, robbers, killers and rapists don’t even exist. And, despite the danger, many of us simply ignore the threat and go on with our many potentially dangerous activities.

Enabling our carefree attitude is the criminal justice system, which is aggressively working to keep us safe from harm. In fact, it’s putting more potentially dangerous people behind bars and away from us than ever before.

According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, 2,319,258 Americans are locked away in either prison or jail. That’s one in every 99.1 adults, and it represents an eightfold increase from 1970 to 2005.

That number is staggering, and it should make every American pause. Of course not everyone in jail is guilty (though I believe our criminal justice system collectively makes an honest effort to avoid wrongful prosecutions), and obviously not everyone in jail is a potential threat, such as minor drug offenders. But, to its credit, our criminal justice system does seem to be serving its purpose and catching violent criminals.

According to the National Crime Prevention Council (which cited statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice): “Violent crime — murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault — was down from a high of 52.3 incidents per 1,000 people in 1981 to just 21.1 incidents per 1,000 in 2004. (Meanwhile) aggravated assault — which involves attack with a weapon or attack without a weapon that results in serious injury — was down even more sharply, from 12.4 incidents per 1,000 people in 1977 to just 4.3 incidents per 1,000 in 2004.”

It’s a very sad thing that so many Americans are incarcerated — it’s the opposite of the American dream. But, the hard reality is it’s necessary to take someone out of society when they’re hurting people. Justice isn’t always pretty, but it’s always necessary. Victims deserve to have their rights protected before criminals (though criminals certainly aren’t without rights).

So, when I give the above statistic a second look, I’m thankful that there’s a system concerned with protecting me. I’m also thankful I’ve never been the victim — that the system has always come through for me. I’m vaguely aware that for others, it hasn’t always worked out so well.

But, despite my gratitude, I remain sad that such a system is necessary. It isn’t a pretty thought that some people are simply out to hurt others — but how else do you explain rapists and murderers?

There are bad people in this world. And the men and women who dedicate their lives to preventing those bad people from hurting all of us are to be commended.

Matthew White is a senior magazine journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].