Stop voting for judges

Of course if you have judges on the ballot for your election (as I do) you should inform youself and make the best choice possible, but the truth is having judge as an elected office is not good for judges or for justice.  If there was one thing all the students in my criminal justice class could agree upon at the end of the semester, it was that electing judges is no way to have a criminal justice system.  Radley Balko nicely spins this out (and more) in a Reason column:

But there is one change that could at least stop the bleeding: less democracy. As New York Timesreporter Adam Liptak pointed out in a 2008 article, America’s soaring incarceration rate may be largely due to the fact that we have one of the most politicized criminal justice systems in the developed world. In most states, judges and prosecutors are elected, making them more susceptible to slogan-based crime policy and an electorate driven by often irrational fear. While the crime rate has fallen dramatically since the early 1990s, polls consistently show that the public still thinkscrime is getting worse.

In response to these fears, legislators have increasingly eroded the discretion of prosecutors and judges (already subject to political pressures) in charging defendants and imposing sentences. Under the theory that more punishment is always better, lawmakers have imposed mandatory minimum sentences, made parole and probation more difficult, and decreed that mere possession of drugs above a certain quantity is automatically treated as distribution. The democratic demand for such policies may be clearest in California, where it is relatively easy to pass legislation through ballot initiatives. Such initiatives have led to some of the toughest crime policies in the country—andnearly twice as many prisoners as the state’s prisons are supposed to hold.




About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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