And we have plenty opportunity to be entertained and educated at the same time. After all since Law & Order arrived on our TVs in our living rooms 27 years ago we have had access to 1,096 original episodes and a movie plus 27 years of reruns in which to dissect the ins and out of the criminal justice system. Except, of course, if you have ever lived in a family, worked in the medical field, been a nerd, been in the military, worked as a firefighter, had Friends, worked for a university, etc. you are well aware that television does not present anything like reality. When Law & Order first arrived on the scene it was so much more "gritty" and tackled some issues of ethics and victim angst and wrongful conviction and corruption and gangs and crimes against children and women and elder folks that had been handled more obliquely before.
But in some ways that seems to be a part of the problem...the very increase in addressing some difficult issues seems to have caused unrealistic beliefs that "finally we know the truth." But just like you who have worked in painfully dysfunctional offices without the levity provided by Steve Carell or Drew Carey, or who have been closely associated with self-destructive sexual predators without the laugh-track from 2-1/2 Men understand that TV is more about keeping people entertained than in sticking to reality. And so people at all levels of the legal system find the 47 minutes of Law & Order self-serving at best. And you will note that no successful sit-com is situated in a correctional faculty or with a low-income family trying to rebuild their lives after serving a sentence for their most public mistake both of which are about has hilarious as terminal cancer.
And, frankly, investigating, learning, and processing the challenges, and struggling to find better options than the current legal system offers is hard, frightening, disheartening and heart-breaking work.
But the current system is only building unethical bad guys faster than the Terminator can mow them down. Boys in foster care are showing up in prisons at a rate of 4 in 10 by age 21 and their poor education levels (often exacerbated by the incarceration of care givers, the chaos in foster care, too common PTSD and frequent school changes all put these most victimized of children into unacceptably high risk environments, failing to even address the issues of how they learn to care for themselves as adults, how honorable men and women behave, how to be the people they were created to be. We truly throw them away, judging them harshly while offering no life-preserver in ever more treacherous seas.
Television speaks of crimes and crime victims, the challenging life of law enforcement personnel and prosecutors with little respect for attorney's although those who can afford able representation generally fair much better in the legal system than those without. Television clearly indicates that when the trial is over the story has ended, which is a huge lie. Victim's and their families are still damaged by the crime. Prison staff and prisoners serve time together and the families of each pay unique prices for the challenges that exist in prisons and jails every day.
So please do not skip over the newspaper and ezine articles on the US legal system. The growing numbers of incarcerated, dwindling numbers of those who find a better way while incarcerated, the proliferation of laws, inequitable prosecution and sentencing, the fracturing of families and communities are all roaring forward as more folks who were over-sentenced since the "get tough on crime" efforts in the 1980s and 1990s that have lead to overcrowding being the rule rather than the exception across the country, have lured us to this time when those sentences are ending with a lot of very under-skilled folks who have given up much hope of leading productive lives or rebuilding relationships which leads to depression (and self-medication) or rage being discharged with few skills in communities without the resources to improve the situation.
This pending fracture to society is building in every state. In Kansas three of the nine prisons are dealing with dangerous staff shortages and the myriad of problems that feeds.
In Law & Order we often hear about the infamous jail on Ryker's Island. It has been deemed wholly corrupt, responsible for injuries and death of people who have never even been tried, much less convicted and many with very minor crimes but who are too poor to pay fines, court costs or bail. The mayor said it would take 20 years to make it better, then changed it to 10 years if they could drop the jail population from 10,000 to 5,000.
In Jackson County, elected county officials responsible for the jail recently stated proudly they had allocated $2.8 million to repair 488 sliding cell doors which means neither those incarcerated nor those overseeing them have been protected from violence. Staff shortages have been exacerbated by increased absenteeism which seems a logical outcome of running an unsafe and unnecessarily stressful work place. There are law suits by those who have been incarcerated and by former staff citing dangerous conditions and injuries, two deaths of incarcerated persons related to questionable medical care, two audits paid for by the county to say this is immoral and dangerous, 200 federal agents who arrived to arrest two correctional officers, an inmate and a civilian for trafficking in contraband including cell phones, drugs and cigarettes ... to name some of the problems reported in the news and cited in the audits. Yet public officials from the County Prosecutor to the County Executive to the County Sheriff all say it is horrid, bad, must be fixed, yet seem to say it is "not that bad."
The children of the wealthy do not generally find their daughters jailed who were picked on on traffic violations and sent to overnight in the jail only to be sexually assaulted. Nor do their sons or mothers or brother experience death by withheld or incompetent medical care. I don't suppose if they get stopped for a DUI or traffic problem or unpaid traffic tickets or back child support, that they are personally sent to the jail. Otherwise, surely these would seem very bad problems indeed to them.