Tag Archives: education

Criminal Injustice

I recently read a book that presents a disturbing analysis of the criminal justice (actually, injustice) system of the United States.  Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice by Adam Benforado is extremely well-written and well-reasoned.  It can also be viewed as the companion volume to Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy which I reviewed in a prior post.  This post will include a number of direct quotes from Unfair.

Criminal InjusticeUnfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice

We want “…to see the world as a fair place where people receive their just deserts.  When confronted with an example of a seemingly ‘good’ person, like a virgin, suffering a terrible outcome, we experience a strong dissonance.  And we eliminate that discomfort–and maintain our perception of justice–by finding fault with the victim.” p. 17

Benforado discusses research about why cops see threats where there are none.  The research study showed that research subjects who were holding a gun were more likely to perceive an individual shown on a screen as threatening (no matter what the individual on the screen was doing) than research subjects who were not holding a gun.  “…having a gun at your fingertips can make the world seem a far more threatening place, with potentially deadly consequences.” p. 61

Later, Benforado analyses the flaws of police lineups. “…studies of actual police lineups show that eyewitnesses select innocent people more than 30 percent of the time.  Would we as a society tolerate the sale of a car whose brake lights malfunctioned on every third trip, or a hospital that handed out the wrong medicine to every third patient? Obviously not; we would demand immediate change. So why do we accept the claim that the legal system works just fine as it is? p. 129

Judges lack training in analyzing expert testimony and don’t grasp the importance of scientific literacy.  “Federal and state judiciaries should commit to rigorous training of judges in assessing expert testimony…A lack of proficiency can bring devastating consequences…making scientific literacy mandatory doesn’t demean judges; it’s a testament to the importance of what they do.” p.155

Why do we punish those convicted of crimes? “[T]here is a growing scientific consensus that it is a desire for retribution–not deterrence or incapacitation–that has the strongest influence on why we punish. [T]he motive to deliver payback to the perpetrator operates as a sort of automatic default.” p.191

“[W]e often seem to be driven to punish first and seek justification second.” p.194

“[O]ur desire to find a culprit and reset the moral scales by inflicting punishment may sometimes override our commitment to fair treatment…[R]etaliatory acts look far less like accidents, anomalies, and collateral damage.  They look like reflections of our true nature–who we really are.”  p 196-7

Punishment that is meted out differs by the ‘race’ of the perpetrator and the ‘race’ of the victim.  Example [p. 197]: Pete murders a woman who spurns him. If the woman is white, Pete is more likely to face than death penalty than if the woman is black.  If Pete is black, his odds of facing the death penalty are far higher than if he were white.  Black men “…also receive higher bails, face a greater incarceration rate, and are subject to longer sentences than white defendants.”  They “are also more likely to actually be executed.”  p. 197

Research has shown that stereotypes and bias affect views of guilt and punishment.  Study participants read a story about a boy with prior juvenile convictions who committed a violent crime.  “The texts given to the groups were identical, aside from one word: for the first group, the defendant was described as black; for the second group, he was described as white. Participants who had read about the black teenager express more support for the severe sentence and for the notion that kids are as blameworthy as adults.” p. 198  That is: white boys are boys, but black boys are men.

“It’s not just whether you are black; it’s how black (italics in original) you are. The broadness of a defendant’s nose, the thickness of his lips, and the darkness of his skin have all been correlated with capital punishment decisions: in cases where the victim is white, the more stereotypically black a defendant’s facial features, the more likely he is to receive the death penalty.” p. 199

Religious views also affect the severity of punishment meted out by the judicial system. “[I]f you believe in the existence of pure evil…you will tend to support harsh punishment and view efforts at reforming offenders as pointless.”  p. 203   You will be more likely to support the death penalty and less likely to appreciate nuance and “…the various forces outside of an offender’s control that may have led him to commit a terrible act.” p.204

Slavery existed in what became the United States since the 1600s. The US is still dealing with the effects of enslaving millions of its residents.   “A country that abolished slavery 150 years ago now has a greater number of black men in the correctional system than there were slaves in 1850 and a greater percentage of its black population in jail than was imprisoned in apartheid South Africa.” p.209  The US prison system is essentially a continuation of slavery.

“[I]n every state, we imprison people for relatively minor, nonviolent crimes–like using drugs or passing a bad check–that would receive a slap on the wrist in other countries.  While no more than 10 percent of those convicted of crimes in Germany and the Netherlands are sentenced to prison, in the United States it’s 70 percent.” p.209

Solitary confinement is more cruel than corporal punishment.  “The notable thing about isolation, of course, is not the infliction of direct suffering; it’s the withholding of the things people need in order not to suffer–in particular, human contact.” p. 217  In addition, solitary confinement “…frequently aggravates the symptoms of mental illness.  More egregious still, when that person’s psychological condition deteriorates–leading him to throw food or feces or act out against guards–we punish him with more isolation, adding years or even decades onto his sentence.” p. 220

“If we really wanted to deter crime, we would stop wasting our time with harsh mandatory minimums, three-strikes laws, and life without the possibility of parole, which have a minimal or nonexistent impact on offending…A punishment needs to be distasteful, but it doesn’t need to be long.” p. 226

Harsh treatment by guards and warehousing with little or nothing to do is a prescription for violence within correction facilities.  “In Georgia between 2010 and 2014, for example, there were thirty-four murders that occurred inside [italics in original] state prison.  Our correctional facilities are incubators for brutality.” p. 228

“Depriving people of normal human contact does not eliminate criminal behavior; it eliminates the capacity to engage in normal human contact…it leaves them unprepared to get a job or interact with the outside world when they are released.” p.229

“[T]he extreme harshness of our punishments may actually increase the likelihood of malfeasance because they suggest that the law is not worthy of respect.  If a couple of garage break-ins over the summer and a stolen car can land a nineteen-year-old in prison for life, then it is hard to trust the system, believe in its rules, and rely on its processes and officers.” p. 230

“The total bill for our correctional system is some $60 billion each year…The irony is that spending money on education–in particular to keep male high school students from dropping out–appears to be a far more effective way to combat crime.” p. 231

There are solutions to the unfairness of our judicial system. Norway has a far-more-humane way of treating its prisoners.  “A monstrous prison will create monsters. And what is the point of that?”  p. 232

Germany is also concerned about the humanity of its prisoners.  “Germany’s Prison Act, for example, makes rehabilitating the inmate the sole aim of incarceration; protecting the public is simply a natural outgrowth of ensuring the inmate’s successful transition back into society upon release.” p.233

What and who we choose to protect or punish is wildly unfair.  “We will fight tirelessly to protect the rights of those who spew hate in the public square, stockpile weapons capable of wiping out classrooms of children, and flood our airwaves with lies to sway elections, but we draw the line at permitting a man convicted of stealing videotapes a door to his toilet, the chance to spend a night with his family, or the experience of preparing his own dinner in his own shirt.  If ensuring freedom for those who may harm us is worth the risk when the costs are high, that must certainly be the case when protecting their rights leaves us safer.” p. 235

“[P]owerful individuals and institutions are already exploiting the weaknesses in our legal system for their own gain.  What does that mean in practice?  If you are rich and connected, you go free.  If you are poor and uneducated, you go to prison.”  p. 248  As Bryan Stevenson has said, “The opposite of poverty is justice.”

“There’s a reason that this book about unfairness hasn’t talked about white-collar crime: those who engage in corporate self-dealing, illegal accounting schemes, and securities fraud get more than a fair deal.

For those at the bottom, by contrast, the lack of access initiates a devastating downward cycle.  You can’t stop losing, because every time you return from prison, you are in a worse position to gain the help you need…And you pass on the curse to your children…Entire inner-city communities become locked into this self-reinforcing inequity, while gated ones across the river are able to secure wealth and success for generations to come.”  p. 252

A major part of the problem in policing and justice is implicit racial bias. “[I]mplicit racial bias puts unarmed blacks at a significantly greater risk of being shot than unarmed whites…One successful approach [to reduce implicit bias] is to show people images of well-known blacks with strong positive associations (like Martin Luther King Jr.) and well-known whites with strong negative associations (like Charles Manson) in order to disrupt racial stereotypes.”  p. 258

Trials do not necessarily achieve a just outcome.  Prosecutors can tilt a trial in their direction by failing to give the defense team all the evidence.  As a solution, “…we could have forensic reports automatically sent from the crime lab to the prosecution and defense at the same time, or have all police reports entered into an open-access file with no input or revision by the prosecution.” p. 261

There are a number of methods that are being used in some jurisdictions to ensure that crimes are properly investigated and that negate reliance on faulty witnesses, intuitions, and biased memories.  These methods include cameras that are triggered by gunshots and record the scene.  Panoscan which records a complete view of the crime scene that allows detailed inspection even months after the fact.  Smartphone apps that give responding officers details about any prior incidents at that address.  To reduce deaths, officers should have trauma kits and know how to use them.  This could save thousands of lives each year.

In order to reduce judicial bias and replace self-serving amicus briefs, Benforado suggests the creation of an independent panel that would provide neutral data on the relevant points in a particular case.  “This simple fix could combat judicial tunnel vision and ensure that all of the justices have access to the same data, which would make it harder to ignore conflicting evidence. ” p.264

Surgery errors and pilot errors  have been dramatically reduced through the use of checklists.  A smartphone app that guides officers through the proper steps of managing a crime scene would also reduce errors and the chance of a wrongful conviction.  “[I]t seems misguided to fret about the impact of such technology when the consequences of a mistake are so high.” p. 266

Benforado proposes a radical, but sensible idea: trials should be virtual with neutral avatars representing all involved individuals. This would eliminate all biases based on an individual’s behavior or appearance.  If juror’s don’t know what a person looks or sounds like, their focus is then directed solely to the evidence.  Lawyers and judges wouldn’t know anything about the jurors and so would also have to focus on the evidence and witness statements.  Witnesses wouldn’t have to worry about their safety. Trials would be more efficient, rapid, and cheaper.  Therefore, more cases could go to trial rather than being pleaded out, which would benefit poor defendants, many of whom, although innocent, plead out in order to avoid remaining in jail, sometimes for years, until their case is tried. The current system may make for high drama, but with limited justice.

Another proposal by Benforado is the creation of a virtual corrections environment in which “[t]hose convicted of crimes might continue to live in their homes and work at their jobs but be required to spend two hours every day in an immersive online space tailored to serve whatever ends we deemed best, whether deterrence, rehabilitation, or something else.  The eventual payoff could be enormous.  For one thing, we would no longer have to house, feed, and clothe most inmates, which would drastically reduce correctional costs.  More critically, only the convict would experience the punishment, not his children, spouse, parents, and friends, as in the current system, and it would be only the punishment that we directly intended, not the assaults that plague today’s prisons.” p.271

“We need to stop viewing the people we arrest, prosecute, convict, and imprison as evil and less than human, for that toxic combinations drives us to hate and hurt, makes our brutish treatment seem justified, and does little to make us safer.  We must challenge the structures that prevent us from seeing our commonalities, hide our shared goals, and dampen our empathy for our fellow human beings.  And we must build new mechanisms that encourage us to understand the perspectives and situations of others.” p. 271

“The arc of history does not bend toward justice unless we bend it.” p. 286

 

Positive Deviance

The Positive Deviance Initiative defines Positive Deviance as an approach that realizes “…that in every community there are certain individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviors and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers, while having access to the same resources and facing similar or worse challenges.”

This methodology has been used by the Initiative in a wide variety of contexts.  One of the first initiatives involved improving child nutrition in Viet Nam.   Researchers to villages with high levels of child malnutrition found that not all children were malnourished.  They studied the mothers with healthy children to see what these “positive deviants” were doing differently and then asked those women to teach the other women.  Malnutrition was reduced.

Another action involved altering cultural perceptions towards female genital mutilation in Egypt and other countries.   When women and men  listened to stories of local women who had not been ‘cut’, were not promiscuous, and were able to marry, attitudes began to change.  Change was further propelled by women who told their stories of how ‘cutting’ had ruined their lives.

A major problem in culture of honor societies, such as those in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is the negative attitude of men towards women.  Misogyny is rampant and fierce.  How can positive deviance tackle this problem?  Fortunately, we have an important example of positive deviance in Ziauddin Yousafzai.  

Ziauddin Yousafzai

 

Although raised in a very traditional family in a small community in Pakistan, Yousafzai valued education so much he decided to become an educator and open schools for both boys and girls.  His first child was a daughter.  Instead of ignoring her, he made sure she knew she was valued and that she received a quality education.  Thanks to this positive deviant father, Malala has become a voice heard world-wide making the case for educating all girls everywhere.  

Positive deviance is dangerous in regions controlled by the Taliban and like-minded men.  What can we do to find and support positive deviants?

 

Educated Girls

I recently finished reading two books by very different individuals who have a common goal: educating all the children in the world (especially girls, who are more likely to be deprived of an education).  The books are I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and The Promise of a Pencil by Adam Braun.

Malala was born into a very poor family in the Swat Valley of Pakistan while Adam was born into an upper-middle-class family in Connecticut.  Their lives could hardly have begun in more different circumstances, but both realized an important truth: individuals can have a powerful impact.  They didn’t need to wait for the world to change; they decided to act.

Malala, encouraged by her father (who, with much difficulty and privation, opened a school in the Swat Valley), became the voice for girls’ education in Pakistan.   Adam initially followed a conventional path by becoming a consultant at Bain, although it was never a comfortable fit: he was left feeling empty and unfulfilled.

Malala and her father defied death threats to continue her education and that of other girls.  They realized that educated girls could improve their own and their families’ lives and that nothing should prevent that education.

Adam, an adventurous traveler, discovered how desperately education was needed throughout the impoverished regions of the world.  He wanted to create a foundation to build schools in those regions, but his parents and co-workers felt that leaving his job at Bain was too big a risk to take.

When the Taliban shot Malala, it was truly a shot heard ’round the world.  Malala’s voice, which primarily had been heard in Pakistan, has now become the international voice championing girls’ education.  With the aid of Shiza Shahid, Malala has an organization to raise awareness of the importance of girls’ education.

 

 

 

 

 

After several months of a sabbatical from Bain during which he focused on laying the groundwork for his education foundation, Adam realized that he couldn’t return to Bain.  He plunged fully into his organization: Pencils of Promise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are two individuals who come from very different backgrounds, but who have common goals.  They want to live in ways that make a positive difference in the world by making sure that all children (but especially girls) receive an education.

As Malala states in her book, reflecting on being shot, everyone will die.  What matters is how you live.

 

International Human Rights Day

December 10, 2012 was the International Human Rights Day, a day that we remind ourselves that far too many individuals still lack basic human rights.  There are 27 million men, women, and children laboring in slavery.  Girls are too frequently denied an education and forced into early marriage when, instead, girls could be powerful forces of economic and political change.

International Human Rights will not be achieved until women have the same opportunities and rights as men; until we have gender equity.  Women’s Rights are Human Rights.

One day each year to remind ourselves that everyone deserves human rights is not often enough. But it is a beginning.

International Day of the Girl

On October 11, 2012, we will celebrate the 1st International Day of the Girl.  This past week (10/1/12 and 10/2/12), PBS aired a two-night, four-hour documentary entitled “Half the Sky” which highlighted the work being done to help girls in several different countries.  This help includes escaping sex slavery, dealing with rape, obtaining an education, and improving healthcare.  As stated on the Half the Sky Movement website, their goal is “Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.” If you missed “Half the Sky” on PBS, you can view it online until October 8 (Part 1) and October 9 (Part 2).

Women and girls form 50% of the world’s population.  Ignoring their needs imperils the future of us all.  One of the biggest issues for girls is being forced into marriage when they are still children.  This ends their education, increases the probability that they and their children will be and will remain in poverty, and also exacerbates healthcare issues. President Bill Clinton has called child marriage a form of slavery. Another website that gets to the heart of the issue on why education for girls matters is The Girl Effect.

I hope that you will celebrate the International Day of the Girl by making sure that the girls in your lives have the full range of education and opportunities that they need to become successful women.

 

Material Wealth Equals Intelligence? Part 1.5

After I published Part 1 of this essay, I heard from a friend who thought I was being too harsh in my treatment of the wealthy.  She also stated that the best way for those in poverty to have a chance to demonstrate their abilities and intelligence, and to achieve monetary success, was for them to obtain a quality education.  While this was not the point of Part 1, I do agree with her that a quality education is a key to ending poverty. Since the poor are unable to provide themselves with a quality education, the funds to provide this education must come from elsewhere.  I see two options: philanthropy and/or taxes. Both options rely on the wealthy (or at least those who have incomes well above poverty levels).  Therefore, if the relationship [>power = >possessions = >intelligence = >human] I describe is invalid, all of those with the most power and possessions would not consider the poor to be less worthy, less human, than themselves and would willingly provide the funds, whether via philanthropy or taxes, so that the poor could obtain the quality education they need to achieve monetary success.

As with every relationship, there are exceptions.  As I mentioned to my friend, Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, does invest his money to improve the lives of the poor.  In addition, Branson is working to ensure that his businesses operate in a sustainable manner in order to lessen the burden to Earth’s biosphere.  If all of those with great power and possessions/money would follow Branson’s lead, the relationship I describe would be invalid.  But I suspect I will be waiting a long time.

PS.  Happy Birthday Sir Richard and President Mandela!  (July 18, 2012)

Contraception is a Key Women’s Right

I find it amazing and deeply disturbing that in the 21st century state legislatures in the United States are being inundated with bills (many of which have passed and been signed into law) that seek to restrict a woman’s right to control her own body and well-being.  Without these rights, women will find it very difficult to partake fully in politics and in the economy.  Perhaps that is exactly the goal of this type of legislation: to drive women back into the home where they are trapped by unwanted pregnancy and under the control of their spouse.

We know that the best way for women and children to escape poverty is for the women to have control of their reproduction. Being able to decide if and when she has children provides a woman with the opportunity for education, which allows her to find better-paying work.  Wherever women have control of their reproduction, the birth rate has declined and economic well-being has improved.  Why would legislatures in the United States wish to reverse this trend?  The only reason I can think of is fear.  Fear that women will gain too much power.  Fear that men (particularly white men), will have less of a say in the future.  Fear that they will lose control. Fear is repressive and destructive.

As a counterpoint to fear, Melinda Gates gave a great TED talk this month about the need for contraception.  Granted, her talk primarily dealt with women in developing nations.  But it is clear that what she says also relates to the current political climate in the United States.  It will be quite ironic if NGOs such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are able to bring reproductive freedom to women in other nations while here in the United States those same freedoms are being whittled away.

Half the Sky

We ignore women, their needs, their rights, their abilities, at the peril of our future.  Their issues are not ‘women’s issues’, they are humanity’s issues. The attempts to marginalize and/or ignore women may well be major factors in why the world is in such trouble economically and politically.  Gayle Tzemach Lemmon in her recent TED talk points out that women are marginalized in financing: they get micro-loans rather than entrepreneurial loans.  Granted, a micro-loan is better than no loan, but her point is that when a woman creates a business it is viewed as less important and less economically valuable than when a man creates one.  Treating women as ‘less than’ negatively affects all aspects of not only their lives, but their children’s lives, and, although the men generally do not recognize it, the lives of men, too.  Simple reasoning makes this obvious: women make up half of humanity; or, as in the Chinese proverb that provided the title for Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book Half the Sky, “Women hold up half the sky.”

As I write this, it is reported in the news that an Afghani women was strangled by her mother-in-law because she gave birth to a third daughter and not a son.  Her husband also appears to have been involved in her murder.  Sons are valued so much more than daughters that failure to give birth to one can lead to a woman’s death.  A woman can destroy her family’s honor by being raped.  The ‘solution’ is for her to marry her rapist, or to be put to death.  Being jailed for being raped actually protects the woman from abuse and/or death.  The girl’s hymen is no longer intact, so she no longer has value and has thus dishonored her family. As Kristof and WuDunn state, “The paradox of honor killings is that societies with the most rigid moral codes end up sanctioning behavior that is supremely immoral: murder.” (p. 82)

Young girls are ‘sold’ into marriages where they become virtual slaves.  Choosing your own boyfriend can result in your death. These examples all involve Afghanis, but any culture that does not value woman equally with men will find ways to demean, mistreat, and abuse women.  For instance, a judge in Canada (and he is not alone in this, as similar views have been expressed by judges in the United States) gave a mild (no jail time) sentence to a rapist because he, the judge, felt the woman had asked for it. These actions are done to keep women in their place, a place that is well below that of men.

Kristof and WuDunn have written a moving book highlighting the many, many ways women suffer from oppression throughout the world.  But they have also written about the women who have fought back against oppression and who are making better lives for themselves and other women.  For this to happen, the women must see themselves as valuable and as equal to men.  Education is the key.  Cultures that oppress women seek to deny girls access to education.  But cultures can change.  This is something that is too often ignored.  Simply because it has ‘always’ been done this way does not mean that it always will be done that way.  Holding back girls and women results in holding back the future.  Clinging to the culture of the past not only marginalizes women, but marginalizes that culture in an interconnected and globalized world.  Cultures can and do change.  Education is the first, vital step.

Education gives girls knowledge and with knowledge they begin to realize that they should have a voice in their lives; a say in what happens to them. With knowledge comes the power to fight back against injustice.  The first girls and women in their communities to come to this realization are very courageous.  They frequently must endure great abuse and hardship.  But they and their stories, as told by Kristof and WuDunn, serve as examples to other women and girls that change is possible, and change begins to happen.

Enmeshed with education are the healthcare needs of girls and women.  Girls who do manage to attend grade school often disappear from school when they begin to menstruate because the schools lack the facilities the girls need during their period.  A husband and brother in India realized just obtaining pads for menstruating girls and women was a problem, so he set out to solve this.  Girls are also often forced into marriage at that time, which also ends their education.  They need a way to manage their menstrual cycle and to obtain birth control so that they can continue their education.  Denying birth control to girls and women because of religious reasons (as has been done with US foreign aid) in effect denies them a future of their own choice.

When a large percentage of women in a particular country are educated and enfranchised, their political power is harder to ignore.  Issues that had been ignored, such as public health and children’s health, move to the political mainstream.  When women become the majority in the government, massive cultural change is certain.  In 1994, Rwanda was the scene of a bloody genocide.  When peace was restored, a new government decreed that women had to hold at least 30% of the seats in all legislative bodies.  Women now hold 56% of the seats in Parliament.  Rwandan culture has changed dramatically.  Rwanda is leap-frogging into the 21st century because the country realized that women are as valuable as men.

China has a long history of valuing sons more than daughters, so much so that with the one child policy and elective abortion, the country now has an unbalanced male/female ratio.  However, the government now realizes that a better policy is to educate girls and women.  When women are well-educated, they want to use their skills in the workplace.  This delays marriage and child-bearing while also improving the economy. Parents now realize that daughters can be just as valuable as sons. A win-win for China: slowed population growth along with rapid growth in gross domestic product. India also sees the value of educating women.  Bunker Roy created the Barefoot College which educates the poor to become technicians and engineers, among other occupations.  According to Roy, men are untrainable.  Instead, the Barefoot College trains grandmothers.

In the 21st century, women in all cultures must be equal participants in all aspects of life and business if we are to deal with the challenges the world will face.  Corporations are discovering that those boards of directors with a higher percentage of women are significantly more profitable than those with the lowest number of women on their boards.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide should be read by anyone who cares about the future.  The tales the authors have collected in their journeys around the world are moving, enlightening, and uplifting.  While oppression is common and severe, it is possible for change to occur.  The book concludes with a plan of action and a long list of things that the reader can do to contribute to the change that must occur.  The website (linked to above) also provides opportunities for action.  “Women are half the sky.”  We cannot succeed in the 21st century without equality for all women and men.