by Marcus Altheimer
”No problem Professor.” Replied Emillo. “A model refers to a generalized or hypothetical description used to analyze or explain something else. For instance … ”
”No, no!” The professor hushed Emillo from further explanation. I’d like someone else to please name and explain to me all the different models used to describe the Criminal Justice System?”
“I got this.” Phonsavanh confidently stated. “The Criminal Justice System itself can best be described through a series of different models, the most encompassing being the ‘Discretionary Model.’ Now this model describes how ‘discretion’ controls every point throughout the criminal justice process.”
“Before you move on Phonsavanh.” Interrupted the Professor. “Can someone describe what that ‘Discretionary’ model looks like?”
“Sure.” Lucci said standing from his seat. “You see what happens is when the police hear about a crime they have to decide if the crime is worth investigating, if it warrants an arrest and what charges to arrest a person with. Then a prosecutor will decide if the case is worth pursuing, what charges to drop, if any, and if a plea deal should be offered. Judges have the discretion to issue bail and at what cost, they decide what evidence can be used during a trial and can hand out the high or low end of a sentence. While parole boards have the discretion to grant a person early release and how much community probation or other programs a person must complete. So every step of the way throughout the system, agents of the system are using their own personal discretion to decide the fate of any & every individual who happens to get into trouble. Their ‘Discretion’ is their power.”
“And that discretion unfortunately leaves room for conscious or unconscious abuses of that power, such as racial profiling.” Tre-Dub added.
“Come on man!” Jake pleaded, “You just don’t stop.”
“You yourself jus’ admitted that the racial disparity in prison is real.” Tre Dub shot at Jake.
“True, but that doesn’t mean cops, prosecutors and judges are using their discretion to racially incarcerate.” Jake shot back.
“Jake you can’t seriously be so slow.” Tre-Dub said with disgust on his face. “Blacks don’t even make up fifty percent of the U.S. population.” He continued. “But we make up over fifty percent of arrests made and the prison population! Does that mean we commit more crimes than whites?”
“Nah.” Answered Cypher. “It means that we are stopped, harassed and arrested more by the police; we are charged and sentenced to longer prison sentences by the prosecutor & judges and we are denied early release through parole more often than our white counterparts.”
“All very good points.” The Professor interrupted. “It sounds like y’all have
been reading Michelle Alexander’s ‘The New Jim Crow.’ But let’s stay focused on getting through our textbook review” She gently prompted the men to refocus their attention. They did, not wanting to disrespect the Professors wishes. ”Now please continue Mr. Phonsavanh.” She happily stated.
“Alright, so the next model used to describe the Criminal Justice System would be the ‘Wedding Cake’ Model which distinguishes the different levels of crimes the system deals with.” Phonsavanh began. “The smallest part of the cake is at the top and consists of ‘Celebrated Cases.’ Those are the cases that get the most media attention because of the fame of the person charged or the horrendous nature of the crime. The second layer of the cake consists of ‘Serious Felonies,’ which is the toughest of all the layers in this model.”
“Mr. Ellis.” The Professor again interrupted, this time calling Lucci by his government name. “Please tell us why the ‘Serious Felonies’ layer is the toughest.”
“Because,” Lucci began, again standing. “It consists of defendants with extensive criminal backgrounds who have currently committed a serious offense. A lot of money, time and energy are focused into these cases since prosecutors aggressively pursue harsher punishments, which in most cases forces most of the defendants to go through lengthy trials. Crimes in this layer usually end with defendants serving long prison sentences.”
“Thank you again sir. Please continue Phon.”
“The third layer of the wedding cake model involves ‘Less Serious Felonies’ such as property & drug offenses; crimes where nobody is seriously injured but will usually warrant some form of prison punishment. Then, the final layer of the wedding cake model contains the bulk of the issues the Criminal Justice System deals with, which is called ‘Misdemeanors.’ These are minor offenses that are usually processed quickly, being settled with a financial fine or some sort of community service … ” Phon paused to make sure the Professor didn’t want clarification or nobody wanted to add anything. When no comments came he continued. “The next model is named and represented by a ‘Funnel’ since many cases enter the top of the system but only a few trickle down and end in prison sentences.”
“Very good Phonsavanh … Now lets have Mr. Ellis finish the remaining models. Then … Only one question left for the gentleman who’s remained fairly silent thus far.” The Professor was making it clear she would not allow anyone to slide without answering.
Knowing the comment was directed at him, Cypher couldn’t let it slide. “I’ve just been giving everyone else the opportunity to show & prove their intelligence.” He said with a smile.
“And next you’ll have the chance to show your own intelligence.” The Professor commented, smiling back. ”Now Mr. Ellis, the last four models are simultaneously linked to one another and conflict with each other. Please describe what they are, as well as how and why that is.”
“Yes ma’ am.” Lucci stood one final time. “The first two models usually conflict with each other since they both have different means to justify the end result. The first is the ‘Crime Control Model’ and its main objective is to prevent and punish crime. It assumes that anyone accused of committing a crime is guilty and tries to process them quickly. Most sociologists would compare this model to a conveyor belt in which defendants are fed through it and punished as soon as possible, regardless of presumed innocence. This model is related to the first goal of the Criminal Justice System that Jake described for us, which was the ‘control and prevent crime’ goal. Now the second model is called the ‘Due Process’ model and is pretty self-explanatory. It assumes that all suspects are innocent until proven guilty and that they deserve to be fairly processed through the System. This model is related to the second goal of the system that Jake described earlier, which was achieving justice by protecting all citizens from governmental abuses.
Now … The next two models describe the process that plays out within any/all court proceedings and are interrelated to the last two models I just described. For-instance in most TV shows like Law and Order or Perry Mason, we witnessed the ‘Due Process’ model in full effect. A big trial takes place to figure out if the suspect is innocent or guilty. Now during these big trials when the Prosecutor & Defense Attorneys are arguing the merits of the case while the Judge is making sure each follows the rules of the law and refs the two sides, that is an example of what is called the ‘Adversarial’ model in full effect.
However in real life, court proceedings do not usually play out like that. Maybe they do in the top half of the ‘Wedding Cake’ model, i.e. the Celebrated cases that get a lot of media attention and the Serious felony cases that force defendants to go to trial. But considering most court cases across the country practice the ‘Crime Control’ model and whisk defendants through the system on a conveyor belt, as quickly as possible, so in order to do this the agents of the courts usually cooperate with one another through a ‘Consensual’ working relationship. Thus the reason this next model is named the ‘Consensual’ model. This is where all the agents of the courts cooperate and work hand in hand with one another to push all cases quickly through without a big trial. They usually force the defendant to take a plea bargain, regardless of guilt or innocence.”
Hoots and hollers of praise erupted as Lucci finished his lengthy description. He mockingly bowed to the class before taking his seat.
“Ok gentlemen! One last question before we move on to another discussion that I’m sure y’all will enjoy. That is, if. .. ” The Professor verbally paused for dramatic effect while prowling the classroom. “It is answered correctly.” She stopped directly in front of Cypher’s table.
Looking up innocently yet confidently, Cypher stared the Professor down. “Bring it.” He barely whispered.
It was a stand off. A silent hush came over the class considering their fate rested upon Cypher answering correctly. And even though Cypher had been learning at a fairly fast pace, book smarts had never really been his forte.
“Ok.” Professor began. “In sociology there are many different theories as to
why crime occurs. For example, the ‘Rational Choice Theory’ believes a criminal only commits crimes on their own ‘Free Will,’ by carefully weighing the potential risks & rewards before committing the crime. Much of the public and many scholars believe this to be true; therefore they believe crime can be solved through the ‘Deterrence Theory,’ which attempts to deter criminals by increasing the threat of arrest and punishment. This misguided assumption has guided the Criminal Justice System since the 70’s, increasing prison terms, building more prisons and increasing the amount of police presence throughout urban communities.”
“Hold up Professor.” Jake interrupted. “You just told us that the Deterrence Theory is a ‘misguided’ assumption.”
Nodding her head in agreement the Professor remained silent.
“Well I find it hard to believe our great country would base its whole Criminal Justice System upon a theory you say is misguided. Is that just your opinion, or is there some facts to back it up?”
“Actually, there are a plethora of facts backing up my statement, however, due to our time restraints I’ll only walk you through three of them.” She noted. “First, I’d like you to tell me … ” She momentarily paused. “If you were a sociologist trying to measure the success or failure of the deterrence theory, what might you look at?”
There was an unnatural silence among the men as they pondered the question she had presented.
“Anyone want to take a stab at it?” She again pressed them.
“Well.” Phon tentatively began. “I’d maybe try comparing a State’s incarceration rate to their crime rate after they’ve implemented some kinda new deterrent. I mean, you’d have to assume that robberies would go down if they are locking more robbers up at a faster rate.”
“Absolutely Mr. Phonsavanh! Great job!” The Professor praised. “One would assume the crime rate would steadily decline as incarceration rates rise, but they haven’t.” She plainly stated with finality. “There are points in time when crime rates do decline; however, data suggests these times correlate to times of strong economic growth throughout the country. And strong economic growth usually means lower unemployment. Therefore one could rightly assume when there are more jobs available then there is less crime, so jobs not harsher laws is the actual deterrent. Second, deterrence theory assumes that criminals carefully weigh the pros and con’s before committing each crime, however, we know with certainty that violent crimes are usually spontaneous, emotional acts. . . Meaning no amount of deterrence can completely stop them from happening. And most data suggests that very few suspects actually believe they will ever get caught, so weighing their chances of getting caught most likely never occurs. Now third, deterrence theory assumes everyone is actually aware of the constantly changing laws each state imposes upon criminals. But let me ask you this; is Criminal Law taught in public schools?”
”No.” Jake responded.
“Do you think average criminals who are running the street are also keeping up with local lawmakers making changes to policy?”
“Then how can anyone expect the masses, who don’t have any education past high school, that is, if they even graduate, to know about the letters of the law and how much time to expect if certain crimes are committed?” The Professor paused before answering her own question. “You can’t!”
“And ‘Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” Added Cypher.
“True, but how can changing the laws to reflect harsher punishments really deter crime for those who are ignorant of the changing laws?” The Professor asked.
“Well when you break it down like that I guess it doesn’t.” Jake meekly responded.
“Oh man!” Tre-Dub shouted. “Did she just take you to school or WHAT!” He clowned, to the pleasure of the other men.
“Now, now. There’s been nothing wrong with Jake’s question. But getting back to you sir.” She refocused her attention back in on Cypher. “There are two distinctly different types of viewpoints that influence all the many theories of the Criminal Justice System. As a warm up question, please describe the two viewpoints for me.”
A small hint of a smile crept onto Cypher’s face as he sat up in his seat. “Easy.” He replied. “You got the biological viewpoint, which believes that the root of all criminal behavior stems from within the individual and are traits that criminals are born with. Then you got sociological viewpoints that believe criminal behavior stems from outside the individual through learned experiences. Each of these views stems from an age-old debate between Nature vs. Nurture. Are we born pre-programmed through our parent’s genetics to behave a certain way; Nature … Or do we learn our behavior through the environments and people we are raised around; Nurture … ”
“Very good sir, I expected nothing less. And since there is little evidence to back up the theories that biological views claim, I want to focus on the sociological views.”
“You mean there isn’t any real evidence proving the narrow-minded views published by racist researchers about a criminal gene in Original people?” Cypher sarcastically asked. “SHOCKING!” Laughs and snickers tore through the men. All but one; Jake sat silent as he dissected the meaning behind Cypher’s statement.
Always wanting her students to examine all sides before reaching their conclusions, the professor continually found herself playing Devil’s advocate. “Just because there is no real evidence to back up those views.” She retorted. “Doesn’t necessarily mean biological theories don’t hold water within certain circles. That is one of the reasons why there is a disproportionate amount of young Original men being targeted by the Criminal Justice System nowadays.”
The Professor’s reuse of the term ‘Original’ set Jake off. “Ok, wait, wait, wait. Hold up!” Exclaimed Jake, unable to keep his silence any longer. “What do y’all mean by ‘Original’ people? I don’t know if I should be offended or not.”
“What we mean is all Black, brown & yellow people of the world.” Cypher coolly replied. “You know, all the indigenous populations of the World …. The term ‘Original’ shouldn’t be offensive to you considering the anthropological truth behind it. Unlike the narrow-minded terms you use to subtly reference White or European as the standard.”
“And what terms would those be?” Jake wondered aloud.
”That ain’t hard to figure out.” Tre-Dub jumped into the conversation. “Cyper’s talking about the terms y’all use like ‘People of color,’ as if the norm is actually people without color. Or ‘Minorities,’ as if Original people aren’t actually the majority around the world.”
“Exactly!” Seconded Cypher.
“But how are you gonna use such a broad term to cover such a diverse and geographically separated population of people, while simultaneously excluding Europeans?” Continued to question Jake.
“Cause it’s the only term that captures our collective identity in a world where Europeans have forcefully and often brutally distinguished themselves as ‘White’ and thus different from the rest of us.” Cypher noted in finality.
… to be continued …