As we’re all straining our eyes and ears to get the details of the case against former House Speaker Hastert, having moved on from the disgrace of our treatment of Mexican migrants in crowded buildings in Arizona and across the southern border –as distinct from how we deal with serious crime in our financial sector — we’re also trying not to think too much about our criminal justice system as a lucrative end-of-the-rainbow for a growing American industry: penal institutions.
How many Americans wind up in jail after overblown prosecutions? How many of the prosecutions result from of exposure in the media rather than scrupulous investigation by law enforcement? How many of the “perps” are nabbed and punished thanks to “dirty” police?
Glenn Greenwald has an interesting perspective on why America is known for its crowded prisons.
… There’s a reason the U.S. has become a sprawling, oppressive penal state, imprisoning more of its citizens than any other nation in the world, both in raw numbers and proportionally. There are actually many reasons: the profit motive from privatized prisons, the bipartisan nature of the “tough-on-crime” agenda, the evils of the Drug War, mandatory minimum sentences, the disproportionate use of arrest, prosecution and imprisonment against minorities.
But one key factor is over-criminalization: converting relatively trivial and harmless acts into major felonies. The postal worker who just engaged in an act of nonviolent political protest — flying a gyrocopter to the U.S. Capitol lawn to protest the corrupting role of money in U.S. politics — faces up to nine years in prison on multiple felony charges. That is over-criminalization, as are the shamefully large number of people in prison for selling prohibited narcotics to consenting adults who wanted them, or even for just possessing them. …Greenwald,Intercept
Thar’s money in them there hills…
Radley Balko, who has done among the best work on the broken U.S. criminal justice system, said this morning: “Dennis Hastert is one of the last people I want to be defending. But these charges are the picture of over-criminalization run amok.” Indeed, who is the victim in Hastert’s alleged crimes, which — again — do not include the “past misconduct”? He literally faces felony counts and years in prison for hiding an agreement to pay someone claiming to have been victimized by him, an agreement that is perfectly legal and standard (even common) when done with lawyers as part of an actual or threatened court case. ..Greenwald,Intercept
“Over-criminalization breeds injustice and abuse of power,” Greenwald writes. You bet it does! And it’s not just the police doing it.
The people who “own” the police and the Department of Justice — that’s you and me — are allowing this to happen. “Sexual misconduct” (alleged) is an accusation that draws us in, every time. It’s a good deal easier to get hold of than the corruption in every element of our justice system, from the federal government right through to our state and local law enforcement.
The media, of course, imprison “perps” in their own way. The beat goes on…
Wheaton College has received and accepted J. Dennis Hastert’s resignation from theboard of advisers to the center that bears his name, but college officials have not decided whether the name of the Hastert Center for Economics, Government and Public Policy will change following the former U.S. House Speaker’s recent indictment, a spokeswoman said Friday. ...AuroraBeaconNews
And then this video popped up from Hastert’s Nov. 13, 2014 appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, in which a man identifying himself as “Bruce” asked Hastert: “Do you remember me from Yorkville?” He then cackled and hung up, leaving Hastert visibly uncomfortable. (The indictment said that Individual A had started meeting Hastert in 2010, and Hastert started making payments to that individual shortly thereafter.)
BuzzFeed also reported that at the request of Hastert’s lawyers, the U.S. Attorney’s office agreed to withhold the “explicit” details from the indictment that concerned why Hastert agreed to pay Individual A $3.5 million in hush money. But at this point, we can’t stop people from jumping to conclusions. …Mediaite
I watched that video several times and didn’t catch the discomfort. And Greenwald added this update:
In the indictment, the DOJ made the decision not to expressly specify the “past misconduct” Hastert sought to conceal. Nonetheless, federal law enforcement officials apparently spent the day running around leaking to media outlets what the indictment worked hard to insinuate: that “Hastert paid a man to conceal sexual misconduct while the man was a student at the high school where Hastert taught.” So this seems to be a case where federal prosecutors wanted to punish someone for a crime they couldn’t prove he committed, so instead reached into their bottomless bag of offenses to turn him into a criminal for something else.
Obviously, “sexual misconduct” with a student is a serious offense, but that still is not part of what Hastert is charged with. In order to punish him for that crime, the government should charge him it, then prosecute him with due process and convict him in front of a jury of his peers. What over-criminalization does is allow the government to turn anyone it wants into a felon, and thus punish them without having to overcome those vital burdens. Regardless of one’s views of Hastert or his alleged misconduct here, it should take little effort to see why nobody should want that. …Greenwald,Intercept
graphic via shutterstock.com