Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Who is Guilty - Dominique Strauss-Kahn or American Criminal Justice?

By Tom Kando

Fresh back from vacation, I can’t resist weighing in on the fascinating debate triggered by Madeleine’s post “The DSK Affair.” Many good things were written on all sides. I am like Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,”- “You are Right, and you are also Right.”

Synopsis: Madeleine’s starting salvo is eloquent and correct. No need for me to re-iterate that Mr. Strauss-Kahn is a pig if he is guilty.

But Csaba is also right - everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Steve is also right: this incident is another opportunity for the never-ending Anglo-Saxon - Gallic culture war to flare up again. Marc, too is right: there is too much trial by the press going on, and the legal lines (consensuality and statutory age distinctions are problematic).

Then, Madeleine and Marc begin an exchange about cultural relativity and sexual mores.

I am proud of the high quality of exchange found on our blog.

Let me add my two bits worth: First of all, it is important to remember that this is (also) a feminist issue. It is logical that Madeleine empathizes with the pain of Strauss-Kahn’s alleged victim more than we men do.
And there is a second way in which Strauss-Kahn’s (largely French) apologists are being assholes: their claim that the French (journalists, etc.) are superior to Americans because they keep politics out of the bedroom, etc.

But then, just like Tevye, I also find myself in agreement with former Culture Minister Jack Lang, when he indicts the American Criminal Justice System for its cruelty. Here, I speak as an expert, having taught criminology for decades.

By some measures, the American Criminal Justice System is the most punitive on the planet. For example, we lock up nearly 800 people per 100,000 population. No other country comes even close to this, not China, not Iran, nobody. In Europe, they lock up between 50 (Denmark) and 80 (the UK) people per 100,000.
California today has 10 times more prisoners than when I moved here. The likelihood of a black male doing prison time during his life is over 50%. And a majority of prisoners are there for non-violent offenses such as drug possession and parole violation.

The obscenity is that this is driven by economics. It’s the Criminal Justice-Industrial Complex. It’s a job-creation program. The system must be fed. When I started teaching at Cal State, the budget for Higher Education was three times that of the Department of Corrections. Now it’s almost the other way around.
Increasingly, Republican state governments have succeeded in privatizing prisons and juvenile detention facilities. Prisons become for-profit businesses! But all of this is well known.

So part of the problem, basically, is that there is more panic about crime in America than elsewhere. And this at a time when crime has been in decline for many years!

Also, as some of you imply, there is more panic about sex in America than in France and elsewhere in Europe.

My advice to everybody: If you are going to f...up, better not do it in this country. We have the most unforgiving C.J. System. Remember Roman Polanski? He committed statutory rape 35 years ago, but there is no statute of limitation on such crimes, so the US authorities are still after him.

I have no problem when the high and the mighty fall. Billionaire white collar criminals, throw the book at them. Strauss-Kahn, if found guilty, throw the book at him.

At the same time, if I were a foreigner, I would be pretty afraid coming to America. You never know what sort of piling on and magnification could take place, even if you only mess up a tiny bit, say you have consenting sex with a 17.5 year old, or you are caught with a .9 blood alcohol content while moving your car in a parking lot, or you are caught with a joint in your pocket.

My advice to foreign visitors to our shores: be very prudent. Here, law enforcement and the judicial system are a crap shoot. leave comment here