For-Profit Justice

Dave Killion — July 10, 2012

A. Barton Hinkle wants to remind us that justice is harder to come by when you’re not a attractive, youthful, caucasian female –

“Not many have heard about Amilkar Figeroa. The 26-year-old was shot and killed in South Richmond in 2009. A year later – the last time it got any coverage – the case remained unsolved. Ditto for Levon Alford andJomond Lightfoot, two other open-case homicide victims in Richmond. And Ashraf Alatiyat, who was killed during a robbery at the Come and Go Food Market he owned on Jeff Davis Highway. During the past five years Richmond alone has racked up 31 unsolved homicides of black men and women. When was the last time you saw one of them on TV?

We hear a lot about the disparate treatment of minorities in the criminal-justice system. Young blacks are arrested for drug crimes 10 times more often than whites, even though five times more whites than blacks use drugs. But there is also widely disparate treatment of minorities in non-judicial realm as well.”

“This is not a new or original insight. There is even a name for the phenomenon: Missing White Woman Syndrome (MWWS). “

The article suggests some reasons why pretty young white female victims get all the attention, but I want to point out that the damage created by the phenomenon is greatly exacerbated by the type of legal system we have. Currently, when police must choose between expending resources on a low-profile case or a high-profile case, they will get more positive publicity and bigger budgets if they solve the latter. However, in a system where the expense of pursuit, trial, and incarceration are borne by the convicted, the pay day for solving the slaying of a black or hispanic woman is likely to be equal to that of a white woman’s. Private detectives would be lining up to take on cases even where the victim cannot be identified! Until that happy day, I’m afraid we are stuck with a system where too many minorities disappear, and perpetrators can get away with murder.


Jeremy Maddock says

I see your point in regard to glory seeking by the police and the Crown. They often do what they do for political and media-related reasons, rather than for the pursuit of justice.

However, I’m a little skeptical of a system “where the expense of pursuit, trial, and incarceration are borne by the convicted.” The vast majority of the convicted can’t even afford to fund their own defence, let alone foot the bill for the whole criminal justice system. Restitution (including out-of-court settlements between victim and perpetrator) should play a much greater role in criminal law, but I don’t realistically see it funding the whole system, unless of course you demanded more restitution from wealthy offenders than poor offenders, which in my opinion at least would violate the principles of fundamental justice.

On the other hand, if you simply have victims and their families fund the entire criminal justice system, you’ll probably just end up with more of the phenomenon being complained about in the Reason article — justice only for those who can afford it.

Whichever way you cut it, achieving real justice is a tricky business. Reducing the size and scope of the criminal justice system (by eliminating laws against “victimless crimes”) is a key part of the solution, as is *perhaps* requiring victims or private insurance to foot the bill for prosecution of certain petty crimes (like shoplifting, vandalism, etc.), then allowing them to seek civil remedies against offenders if possible. This would leave it up to the victim to decide whether a very minor crime by a destitute criminal is worth prosecuting at all, and ensure that public resources are only spent on the prosecution of violent offenders who pose a genuine risk to public safety.

— July 11, 2012

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