Go against the tide to change justice system

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Here I go again, putting my foot in my big mouth, as my dear friends would say.

I don't know, but it seems that more often than not I find myself doing what my unit manager at Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. here in Augusta warned me against way back in 1965. No, it wasn't "putting my foot in my mouth," but rather what he used to call, in his deep military voice and using a cruder term, "urinating against the tide."

Clifford Herzberg was a retired sergeant major and a character who will forever, at least as long as I live, be remembered by me. In the office they called him "Cliff," but I always called him "Mr. Herzberg." And that had nothing to do with him being a white man living in the '60s. There were a lot of white men during the '60s I called by their first names. But I had a special respect for Mr. Herzberg. He taught me so much about salesmanship at the office at 13th and Greene streets and later at the office at the Wachovia building on Broad Street. Back then it was called the Georgia Railroad Bank building, where I had an office -- with a white secretary, believe it or not -- on the eighth floor, overlooking the Savannah River and North Augusta. I was what some folks called "living in high cotton."

ONE OF THE first things Mr. Herzberg taught me was how not to waste time trying to sell insurance to somebody who neither was interested in it nor could afford to pay for it. That's what he called going against the tide. However, I must confess I wasn't a good student. In spite of Mr. Herzberg's admonition, I still tried to go against the tide, even up to this day.

And it seems that I have been doing that most of my life. It's nothing that I set out to do. It's just my nature to think the unthinkable, the improbable, and, sometimes, the impossible.

It occurred to me over the past several months that we taxpayers are getting, let's just say, the short end of the stick in the criminal justice system -- local, state and federal. And guess who's getting the long end? You guessed it. Right. The criminals.

Now, wait just a moment, don't get me wrong. I'm not weighing in on the side of those advocating harsher punishment, such as locking 'em up and throwing away the key -- at least not at this time. Furthermore, I don't think they would be taking that position either if they would just stop for a moment, take a deep breath and count the cost of locking up people vs. what they get in return. Locking up people and throwing away the key is the easiest and, I must say, the costliest thing to do. Like an out-of-sight, out-of-mind sort of thing.

WHAT I'M TALKING about takes some risk -- going against the tide. I'm talking about going against one of the most powerful systems in the nation -- the justice system. And who is little ol' Grady Abrams to question how it's run? Or, should I say, ruined?

Here I go again, putting my foot in my big mouth. Why can't I just shut up and leave things alone? The answer is simple: The cost is too much.

Just for the sake of argument, can we agree that most of our criminal laws were passed and are passed from an emotional state of mind? After a rape, a murder, a child molestation or any number of crimes that touch us in an emotional way, very seldom do we find ourselves writing criminal legislation when we are not in such a state. It's like preparing for the funeral of a loved one. We don't worry about cost. We make decisions about things in an emotional state, and then later on find out we can't pay for them.

DON'T GET ME wrong. We need laws to exact retribution for crimes committed. The question is, what kind of laws? For society to get the biggest bang for the buck, we have got to take a long, hard look at how our money is now being spent in this present system of ours, which seems to punish the taxpayers, like myself, more so than the criminals.

What's my rationale for thinking this way? Well, I'm told that it takes an average of $30,000 a year to incarcerate a prisoner. That's any prisoner -- from a despicable rapist or child molester to a person in for simple possession of drugs. They all get the same accommodations. This is not to speak of the cost of before and after incarceration -- i.e., court costs and probation costs.

For example, a person locked up for drug possession for five years could cost taxpayers anywhere from $150,000 to $200,000. One hundred prisoners at that cost could cost taxpayers $20 million -- enough to build a library, a school, a courthouse or any public building that could benefit law-abiding citizens.

But guess what we get in return? Usually a person who knows a whole lot more about crime than he did before he went in -- and, in many cases, can't wait to get out to try out his new-learned skills. Thus the cycle begins again and seems to never end. And we keep on paying, and keep on paying and believing that we are getting a good deal.

THAT'S THE real tragedy. We pay as victims of crimes and we turn around and pay for the criminal to be worse when turned loose. Don't think for one moment that you can put a person in an inhumane environment, without some kind of rehabilitation program, and expect for him to come out and be a model citizen. It just ain't gonna happen -- excuse the slang.

Somebody has got to stand up and say "no!"

Maybe we can get angry enough to come up with a system where the criminal actually pays for crime and not the other way around. Of course, that will require, first of all, legislators who are willing to stand and go against the tide, dare to make a paradigm shift and dare to react to crime in a rational way, rather than an emotional way.

Too bad we are forced to let loose people who perhaps should not have been there in the first place to make room for the violent criminals.

One thing's for sure: It's getting to where we can no longer afford to pay for our emotions. I think we can do better. In fact, I know we can. All it takes is to go against the tide.

The writer is a former Augusta city councilman, and a retired labor relations manager from Bechtel Savannah River Inc. He lives in Martinez.

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justus4 07/20/08 - 07:02 am
The criminal justice system

The criminal justice system in America is a national shame. Most know it, but are unable to do anything, except an occasional letter here and there. Its a huge money maker with contracts and slave labor. Laws are enacted targeting specific groups, then justice is doled out unequally regarding time, filling jails with young men, mostly of color. Judges and so-called juries trials are mostly exercises in racial injustice, because the jury make-up is critical to the verdict. Abrams writes about going against the grain, well what about just TELL THE TRUTH! It's your people thats suffering and not people in your circle, who probably only tolerate such views for entertainment. This is a national problem which requires a national effort to address injustices within the current system. Problem is, if this guy knows people that trust & believe in the current judical scam, and they think he is "urinating" in the wind, they probably are benefiting direct/indirectly from this system. This LTE is too long and avoids any real accountability for those elected officials responsible for making the criminal justice system profitable to private citizens.

GnipGnop 07/20/08 - 07:11 am
I see at no time in your

I see at no time in your response did you mention responsibility for your own actions. That's the bottom line. Nobody is telling these young men that the jails are filling up with do do the crime. They are taking their own future in their hands when they do. Then to have someone bemoan the fact that they are in jail? Puhlease, I will cry for them when they are out trying to earn a honest living rather than feed off of their own. I hear blacks complain about crime in the projects and then claim racism when young black males are arrested. Can't have it both ways. Anyone and I mean anyone black white green purple that is breaking the law deserves whatever punishment they get.....period!!!

GACopperhead 07/20/08 - 07:36 am
Look at lotteries....they,

Look at lotteries....they, like selling drug, robbery, etc. are just easy ways to get money without working. While I agree that, somehow, more honest opportunities need to become available, leadership needs to start stressing personal responsibility. Of course, that leads people like Jessie Jackson to want to cut someone's ---- off.....

rbk 07/20/08 - 08:12 am
GACopperhead, Jessie Jackson

GACopperhead, Jessie Jackson & Al Sharpton & Jeremiah Wright don't care about the people they supposedly represent, just the money they can get them to give them to finance their high life style. They are no different than government politicians, they just don't have a government office.

Riverman1 07/20/08 - 08:48 am
An interesting editorial

An interesting editorial today notes that the mediation program for domestic cases is working to keep those type offenders out of the judicial system. Drug Court has been around for a short while freeing up the judicial system and keeping offenders out of prison. Until the laws are changed, these approaches are a practical way to deal with the mess they cause and keep people out of jail.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 07/20/08 - 09:08 am
Mr. Abrams paragraph above

Mr. Abrams paragraph above about the laws and the sentences being passed in states of emotional duress and distress is worthy of thought and consideration. Many minimum sentences today seem out of whack compared with more serious crimes, and the "emotion" argument may be the reason. A commission to study and recommend a uniform sentencing guideline probably needs to be done every ten years or so. This would help undo rash decisions by lawmakers, or should I call them "lawmeddlers?"

jack 07/20/08 - 03:22 pm
Justus4, those "men of color"

Justus4, those "men of color" in jail committed crimes. Blacks have the highest rate of violent crime-especially against other blacks, thus should be in jail. BTW, explain the specifics of how the criminal justice system benefits private citizens.

toothru77 08/21/08 - 07:58 pm
I applaud Mr. Adams for his

I applaud Mr. Adams for his commentary for the "in" justice system's need for reform. However, like several posters, it will take a national effort to push for laws that make sense especially in our federal system where one size fits all regardless of mitigating circumstances. How is it in the state system, murderers can get out much earlier than a person with a first time drug possession or theft charge? What is wrong with this thinking? something has to give but I guess when the people who are making the most dollars off of the near-free (oops) labor provided by those in prison decide the laws should change then they will... I'm in Tennessee and have witnessed too much of this in justice especially for minorities. Slavery nor racism is not dead but has just changed its mask....

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