The problem with criminal justice in the current United States is one which requires a major paradigm shift. Police academies across the country are training to shoot first, have major discussions later. Police officers are evaluated in their job evaluations on how many arrests they make. Young district attroneys learn fast that trying lots of cases reflects well on advancement, even if they are trying cases that have no business being tried. Young prosecutors, fresh from law school, are thrown out into the world with very little life experience and a lot of power to wield. They know the laws, but don't understand their power. For example, here is where power runs awry.
A police officer encounters a recent high school graduate on a speeding ticket. He smells fresh marijuana emanating from the car. Although the kid has a clean record and this is her first real brush with the law, the cop arrests her. An inexperienced, young prosecutor with little life experience gets the case and mistakenly believes he must put her on some type of probation that will leave her with an arrest record law enforcement can always pull up (sealing and motions for nondisclosure are not erasing one's record). The high school graduate gets on probation and in a moment of weakness under peer pressure smokes a joint and fails a random urinalysis. Now the prosecutor feels like the first time offender should be revoked and sent to jail to teach them "a lesson." The result of all this overzealousness for the black letter of the law and lack of vision due to little life experience, produces a citizen who will forever be banned from renting an apartment at most complexes and given very little opportunities to get to an interview past a criminal background check. This equates to taxpayer dollars as this person eventually ends up in section 8 housing.
Now, I am not advocating for people to break the law. I am advocating for the power of the law to be of service. Police officers should be respected, not feared. They are currently feared by the majority of citizens who have nonvoluntary encounters with them. Why not allow the police officer to have a heart felt discussion with the high school graduate motorist? Why not allow them the opportunity to bring them home and have a helpful discussion with the parents which might go further in avoiding scrapes with the law? Our country seems to think that the only way to handle problems is punitive. That police officers should make arrests rather than use their discretion. That government programs a prosecutor may put someone into will solve all problems. The problem is the government should be the last resort, not the first. A society that rules by an iron first, will die by an iron fist. Allowing police officers and prosecutors to use common sense, rather than dictate a culture of hard core enforcement will reap much better results. Use the courts and jails when the options have run out. Take a chance on people and their communities (churches, the "village" one keeps) first. Right now, it is juries that are meting out such common sense practicality. We are in need of a law enforcment paradigm shift. Let law enforcment serve, rather than arrest everyone in the name of protection.
What is the point of arresting and prosecuting an intoxicated person for sleeping it off in their car? It sends the message, that one is better off risking driving home intoxicated than playing it safe to protect everyone. Why not give a first offender a ride home if the cop believes this is a good opportunity to teach them a lesson rather than ruin their life? I grew up in an age where cops often drove people home or let their parents come and get them. Why can't cops use this type of discretion anymore? I know many people whose lives would have turned a different course, had the cop not given them a chance.
Law enforecment officers are to be commended for their sacrifice for others. Let us allow them to use not just their training, but their hearts in exercising discretion in helping other people. Sometimes you change a life by a chance, not an arrest. We need this paradigm shift if we are to progress as the worlds' most advanced democracy.
*The use of marijuana in this example will be offensive and ridiculous to many reading this, as recreational marijuana use is legal in many states. However; in states like Texas, one can still go to jail and suffer serious consequences.