ON MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE

 

“ One Individual Can, in fact, Make a Difference!”

 

I recall years ago, something over 40 to be precise, early on in my own career, this lesson applied to the criminal justice system in a manner that was to be observed not just once but over again and again.  The Criminal Justice field is not altogether dissimilar from other fields of professional endeavor, yet it does seem to me to be more subject to fads and fashions, most passing soon over time and trials as the System seeks it’s own holy grail; a Silver Bullet that will turn the tide of delinquency and crime; preventing delinquency and controlling criminal behavior and recidivism. One program, one solution, one means by which we can make things right, the profound “A Ha!” dreamed up by a criminal justice practitioner “expert.”  To date such a solution has eluded us; it is not to be found.  Not one of us can lay claim to having solved the riddle of life-notwithstanding attempts to do so.  “Scared Straight”, the XYY Chromosome theory, the study of phrenology (bumps on the head) and many others failed, never became a Salk vaccine for criminality.

 

However, on the “other side” a single individual offender has often changed the course of events in criminal justice system policy and practice, if not fundamental philosophy. What I recall 40 years ago during a stint at the Lorton Correctional Facility was almost frightening though enlightening. It was a highly progressive facility, seven years old and still progressive in the sense of both a punitive accountability and rehabilitative program foundation, irrespective of high double fences topped and bottomed with razor ribbon and armed guards in towers with high power lights at every corner-it always seemed like daytime. Between the buildings and about 100 yards from the fences, the facility was surrounded by rows of evergreen trees. There had not been one escape by any manner whatsoever in the 7 years-not even an attempt.

 

 

 

Then, one fine day at about dusk, a more than brave inmate, alone and with no assistance at all, found his way past the trees, another hundred yards and got through the otherwise impenetrable fencing and wire. 

 

 

Result: Within 72 hours, every tree on the entire compound was cut down. 

 

The Rest of the Story: Several more escapes occurred in the ensuing years.

 

That gave me pause.

 

To think that no matter how long I remained a criminal justice professional, at no time would any single act have as much impact as that of that one inmate.

 

And today, given the act of one recent parolee, we are in the political arena which may well lead to legislative action to reverse Court Rules that provide for Reconsideration of Sentence by the original sentencing court upon proper and timely motion filed for the offender

 

It’s happened again-“One Individual Can Make a Difference”, impacting policy, procedure and the lives of hundreds of others who may be deserving of such reconsideration – and notwithstanding today’s seemingly empty rhetoric that inmate rehabilitation is of paramount import alongside individual accountability and punishment, to the criminal justice system.

 

 

 

Rex Smith

January 2005