Crafting Gentleness

Monday, March 19, 2007

Can Justice Be Kind?

"I find it difficult even to imagine a criminal justice system infused with kindness. The United States stands in the midst of a decades-long expansion of an ever-meaner prison-industrial complex. The system now holds 2 million souls, of whom several thousand await execution and many thousands more are held for years at a stretch in sensory-deprivation-style solitary confinement.

"As if to highlight the venemous nature of this experiment, American criminal laws were long ago rewritten to excise anachronistic references to rehabilitation as a primary goal of imprisonment. As they are now written, the laws speak only of punishment and 'deterrence' - which is a fancy term for using prisoners and the brutal treatment to which they are subjected as examples to potential lawbreakers.

"If there is a nexus between the criminal justice system and kindness, it is not to be found among the venal politicians who have built the system or the petty bureaucrats who administer it. Rather, it is to be found among those who struggle against the system, from both within and without prison walls. During the years I have spent as a criminal defense lawyer - and before that as an anti-prison activist - I have found myself working with some of the finest and kindest people I have ever encountered.

"I have known dedicated volunteer activists who have built sophisticated grassroots campaigns that seek to expose torture and injustice. I have known women in prison who risk and sometimes suffer punishment for smuggling freshfruits and vegetables - contraband, according to the rules - to fellow prisoners bedridden with AIDS or cancer. I have known lawyers who have spent 10, 20, or more years, often for no pay, fighting to free a single innocent person. And I have known people of meager means who manage to send 20 dollars every month so that a prisoner can buy extra food or writing paper from the canteen.

"I would like some day to live in a society where prisons are unnecessary. In the shorter term, if our current criminal justice system is somehow to be reformed, the task will not be accomplished based on the cruel values of those who have built it, but on the values of kindness and love exemplified by those who refuse to accept it as it currently exists."

Scott Fleming, criminal defense lawyer from Oakland, California, representing Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox of the Angola 3 (From A Revolution in Kindness, Anita Roddick ed., 2003).

See 'Getting Shot on the Docks' and 'In Good Conscience' and the Angola 3 coalition

Read more about Anita Roddick's interest in the Angola 3 case



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