Category: Issue 7
I. Bennett Capers, Professor of Law and Director of the Center on Race, Law, and Justice, Fordham Law School. B.A. Princeton University; J.D. Columbia Law School.
Each year our jails cycle through approximately ten million people, the vast majority charged with nonviolent crimes. We are at a point where one in every three adults in America has a criminal record, and where for every fifteen persons born in 2001, one will likely spend time in jail or prison. Compared to other countries, the crime rate in the United States is not exceptional, and yet we have by far the highest incarceration rate in the world. None of this can be solved by simply tinkering with the machinery of prosecution. It is time to rethink why and how we prosecute in the first place. What would it mean to turn away from public prosecutors and not rely on the criminal justice system as the first responder to address social ills, such as mental illness and poverty (two of the main drivers of our prison industrial complex)? More radically, what would it mean to turn away from state controlled prosecution as the primary way to address crime? What would it mean to replace a system where prosecutors hold a monopoly in deciding which cases are worthy of pursuit with a system in which “we the people,” including those of us who have traditionally had little power, would be empowered to seek and achieve justice ourselves? This Article attempts to answer these questions.