Criminal Justice in America by Marshall Frank. AuthorHouse, 2008. 276 pages.
In Criminal Injustice in America: Essays by a Career Cop (AuthorHouse, ISBN 978-1-43892062-7), former policeman Marshall Frank gives us his take on the criminal justice system through a series of essays. Although Frank has explored the ideas behind these essays in numerous newspaper columns and novels, here he attempts an in-depth assessment of what he calls our “desperately fractured” criminal justice system.
Frank, who used to reside in Maggie Valley but recently relocated to Florida, begins his book by giving us a look at his background — cop, columnist, novelist, lecturer — and a list of his prejudices. He correctly writes that he considers himself “a centrist conservative, though I have some liberal leanings about social issues, like appropriating government funds for stem cell research, keeping a strict separation of church and state, and endorsing gay rights.” He adds that “I, for one, relish independent thought and hope my readers do the same.”
Certainly Criminal Justice in America trots out some rarely-heard ideas regarding radical change in the criminal justice system. Frank’s views on sex crimes, particularly those committed by child molesters, run contrary to the thinking of most Americans today.
Here, for example, he strongly recommends that child molesters, who according to Frank seem as drawn to their vice as drunks to booze or addicts to crack, receive counseling and help when apprehended. In another chapter, Frank suggests that all federal judges, including Supreme Court judges, have term limits of 15 years. He calls for the elimination of the requirement of a unanimous verdict, as well as for the elimination of the 12-person jury. He advocates the automatic deportation of all illegal aliens convicted of a felony, after they have finished their sentences, and recommends the completion of the fence along the border with Mexico to halt immigration and to slow the problems caused by illegals within the criminal justice system.
These and many other of Frank’s suggestions make Criminal Injustice in America a book well worth reading. The essays are written like newspaper columns and are easy on the eyes, and the conversational style is easy to comprehend.
Yet Criminal Justice in America does present some problems for the discerning reader.
In addition to a good number of typos and mistakes in the book, the statistics, which Frank uses abundantly, sometimes raise more questions than they answer. He writes, for example, that “the Catholic Church scandal earlier in this decade saw 4,392, (or 4 percent of all Roman Catholic clergy in the United States) being accused of sexually abusing children, as far back to the 1940s. (Per the John Jay Report commissioned by the Conference on Catholic Bishops).” Besides the minor mistake here — it is the Conference of Catholic Bishops — we are left in the dark. Does this mean that only 100,000 men have served as priests in the United States since the 1940s? And of the accused, how many priests were convicted?
This foggy statistical analysis extends throughout the book. In the very next paragraph, we learn that during a five-year period there were more than 2,500 cases in which educators were punished for actions from bizarre to sadistic, “all involving sexual misconduct. More than 1,800 of those incidents involved young people, eighty percent of whom were students.” Questions: what were the other 20 percent? If we’re making some sort of comparison to priests, how many educators were accused as well as convicted?
Another complaint that might be directed at Criminal Justice in America is the cost of the programs recommended by Frank. Exorbitant as criminal justice costs now are, to institute the recommendations listed in this book would make the recent stimulus package look like the work of pikers. Many chapters in this book recommend creating more judges, more attorneys, more counselors, more day cares, more educational programs. To be fair to Frank, he lists these changes under the heading of “The Magic Wand,” which is a sort of personal wish list, yet the cost of these programs versus the cost of the current system — in money, in resources — is never compared on any realistic level.
Finally, Criminal Justice in America advocates more repressive and constrictive government than we already have now. In his discussion of abortion, for instance, Frank writes that we should “create legislation making it a crime to harass and harangue pregnant women at abortion clinics.” Even if we assume that the majority of Americans might favor such a move, is it not possible that such a recommendation, enacted into law and enforced by armed police, would lead to other protesters being banned? Frank writes that we need to expand “law enforcement sting operations throughout America to catch pedophiles surfing the Internet for children.” This idea not only increases law enforcement on the Internet, but raises the question: where in the hell are the parents in their children‘s lives? Why aren’t they watching out for children? Frank writes that we should “pull radio licenses from stations that play gansta rap on the public air waves.” Again, why pull radio licenses when the country allows such music to be created in the first place? And pulling radio licenses — what if the government next decides that we shouldn’t listen to gospel music or to certain political broadcasters?
Frank tell us at the beginning of Criminal Justice in America that he once met a house painter at a yard sale who recognized him.
“The painter extended his hand and said, ‘Howdy, I know you. I don’t always agree with what you say, but you sure do make me think.’ That’s better than a paycheck any day.”
The painter’s remarks hold true in regard to Criminal Justice in America. Frank is his own man, blunt, outspoken, sometimes out of his league but always a searcher, a digger after facts and solutions. Few readers, liberal or conservative, will agree with everything this former Miami homicide detective says in his critique of our laws and courts.
But he will make you think.