#MeToo Collides With Kavanaugh and Justice Reform
Accountability for offenders committing acts of violence against women is necessary.
But criminal responsibility is gender neutral. Legally, what you do for one, you do for all.
Justice reformers want to dramatically lessen the impact of criminal justice processing by cutting prison and parole and probation populations by 50 percent. How do you demand enhanced criminal responsibility while lessening sanctions?
Thus a #MeToo movement that justifiably argues for accountability runs smack into a system that cannot comply.
Many of us within criminal justice circles argue that offender accountability is an essential part of justice. Without question, this includes rape, and sexual assault, which is why many of us support the #MeToo movement.
Many reformers take a different approach. They state that many acts of criminality do not deserve formal processing of offenders, especially first-timers and those with minor criminal records.
But there are plenty of reformers who argue against prison, parole and probation, and fines for violent and serious offenses. They want to cut the prison population in half, Cut 50.
If you think that cutting prison beds by 50 percent is unrealistic (or silly), note that major organizations like the Anne E. Casey Foundation, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and The Ford Foundation provide funding for the movement, Cut 50 Partners.
Note that per US Department of Justice data, five out of six released prisoners commit another crime; they have close to two million arrests for an average of 5 arrests per released prisoner, Crime in America.
The justice system acknowledges that people do stupid, illegal things. It includes a wide array of mechanisms that separate minor offenders from harsh penalties. This includes anything from police discretion (as a cop, I took minor juvenile offenders home), to dropping charges without conditions to deferred prosecution (i.e., eliminating charges after doing community service) to drug and specialty courts requiring participants to participate in some form of treatment to obtain leniency.
Some jurisdictions like Washington, D.C. have specific programs designed to take younger offenders (up to age 22) charged with serious crimes (including sex offenses) to greatly limit prison time, Washington Post.
The justice system embraces the notion that people commit illegal acts that could be prosecuted but based on the person’s age, circumstances, and criminal history, they decide not to proceed. Leniency is built into the process.
Let’s take a recent example that caused people’s heads to spin with political venom.
It’s my guess that most people have engaged in transgressions that could have resulted in criminal penalties if not jail or prison time, especially during their younger years.
During the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, questions were asked about drinking and the severity of consumption. Never in my fifty years in the justice system did I foresee the day when someone with impressive judicial credentials (per a wide variety of organizations) would be excoriated over getting drunk on beer or what he wrote in his yearbook during his teenage days.
I and my male and female peers who now lead normal, law-abiding, productive lives have consumed more than our fair share of alcohol and other substances in our youth and beyond. If you recorded all of our stupid/inappropriate/illegal acts, it would fill a book, yet we turned out to be pretty decent people.
We didn’t see ourselves as any different than anyone else at the time. We weren’t any different from our peers.
What Kavanaugh’s detractors say about his drinking seems like child’s play compared to what we did. Yet critics insist that his alcohol consumption disqualifies him from the Supreme Court.
Why bring up Kavanaugh? It seems that what’s acceptable regarding youthful behavior changes in a heartbeat based on political whims.
There is a ton of emerging research suggesting that young people’s brains haven’t fully formed until the age of 25 thus younger offenders can’t be responsible for many criminal acts, NPR. This research is used by reformers to justify lesser sentences for rape and other serious transgressions.
Kavanaugh was 17 at the time of his alleged sex and alcohol transgressions. According to reformers, he can’t be held fully responsible for those acts because his brain wasn’t wholly formed.
“As any parent knows,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the 5-4 majority, youths are more likely to show “a lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility” than adults. “[T]hese qualities often result in impetuous and ill-considered actions and decisions.”
Some child advocates have pointed to the Supreme Court decision and the research as evidence that teens — even those accused of serious crimes — should not be regarded in the same way as adults in the criminal justice system, ABC News.
The Justice System Has Limits
We need to understand that the justice system provides opt-out points because we have no choice. There are simply too many cases, too many criminals.
The majority of violent crimes are not reported to the police and most violent acts involve someone we know. We choose not to report because we saw the transgression as a private matter or for other reasons. This applies to both males and females. If all violent crimes were reported to law enforcement, the system would collapse in a month, Law Enforcement Today.
Thus the justice system is inherently based on leniency for minor (and not so minor) offenders because we lack the capacity to process everyone.
We plea bargain the overwhelming number of criminal cases (about 95 percent) because the justice system simply cannot hold jury trials for everyone; it’s impossible.
Thus a #MeToo movement that justifiably argues for accountability runs smack into a system that will not and cannot comply.
There is more support for the Cut 50 movement then you would imagine from criminal justice administrators who are drowning in cases they can’t process.
The #MeToo movement is correct in wanting people to be held accountable for their crimes and crass acts. There are endless news articles and reports documenting sexual abuse from the movie industry to the Catholic Church to major players at CBS News to everyday life.
New York State authorities are investigating allegations that several longtime professors at John Jay College of Criminal Justice committed a wide range of crimes and other misconduct, the New York Times reports. The allegations include the use and sale of drugs on campus, attempts to coerce women into prostitution, and rape.
John Jay is an epicenter for the criminal justice reform movement.
Of the women I spoke to, harassment, inappropriate touching, and assault are common themes. The seems that #MeToo applies to most girls and women. This is disgusting. Women want to be free of abuse and that’s a right that all of us should fight for.
But It Means?
The justice system simply doesn’t have the capacity to hold everyone accountable. We quickly get rid of “minor” criminal cases because of philosophy and capacity. But that means that victims don’t get the accountability they deserve. Examples:
Advocates want the age for adult prosecution raised and those under 21 kept in the juvenile justice system where the best interest of the “child” surpasses criminal responsibility.
Bail reformers insist that the overwhelming majority of defendants be released without a cash deposit. That means that the person who grabs or gropes you will be back on the street within hours after arrest. The odds are that you know the offender or he lives in close proximity.
Think the system can keep track of those prosecuted for sex crimes? Missouri authorities do not know the locations of more than 1,200 sex offenders, including nearly 800 who would be classified as the most dangerous, says a report by the state auditor, Reuters. Many states have similar problems, CNN.
But the discussion really hits a snag when we discuss prison or parole and probation reform. There are established, well known, major national entities who demand that we cut the prison and parole and probation populations by 50 percent and more. Many criminologists and justice advocates agree with them. They believe we over incarcerate. In essence, offenders walk free from traditional sanctions.
If you took Bill Cosby’s name out of the equation, advocates would insist that a man of his age and criminal history should not be in prison. Per The Crime Report, The entertainer’s 3-10 year sentence may empower more women to report assaults, but there’s still a long way to go before sexual predators are deterred by the threat of serious prosecution, says a former sex crimes prosecutor.
#MeToo wants accountability. #MeToo wants a life free of harassment and unwanted touching and assault.
But the movement is up against a system that lets many go free because it lacks the capacity to prosecute all offenders. We extract minor (and not so minor) offenders because we have no choice.
But the real conflict comes when prison and criminal justice reformers want to dramatically cut prison and parole and probation populations by 50 percent. They believe that we over incarcerate. That means that endless thousands of offenders convicted of crimes against women are not held accountable via traditional sanctions.
Reformers will state that this is a grand and unfair overstatement but with female rates of criminal victimization exceeding male victimization, I contend that it’s not, Crime in America.
You simply can’t have it both ways. You can’t cut the system in half in the name of progressive thought and hold everyone who harasses, inappropriately touches, and assaults girls and women criminally accountable.
Progressives, reformers, feminists, and members of the #MeToo movement need to decide a path forward. Accountability, fewer sanctions and cutting the prison and parole and probation population in half cannot coexist.
The Crime Report
Analysis from The Crime Report was used for this article.
I examined the potential of justice reform in previous articles and sustained the notion that the criminal justice system has fiscal limits. We do not have the capacity to formally process every first or second-time offender brought to our attention. Even if we did, we shouldn’t; there are endless numbers of minor offenders who go on to lead productive lives without our intervention.
Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. – Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of award-winning public relations for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Former Adjunct Associate Professor of criminology and public affairs-University of Maryland, University College. Former advisor to presidential and gubernatorial campaigns. Former advisor to the “McGruff-Take a Bite Out of Crime” national media campaign. Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University. You can contact me at [email protected]