Delaware criminal justice system needs repair

 (Steve Ruark/AP File Photo)

(Steve Ruark/AP File Photo)

John Watson shares his thoughts on Delaware’s criminal justice system.

Here is John Watson’s commentary:

Why is it that so many members of the black community are in Delaware prisons? The answer is simple – the Delaware criminal justice system needs more justice.

It’s reported that while 22 percent of the state’s residents are black, 6 in 10 of them are inmates in the state’s prisons, according to Department of Correction records from 2014.

Chief Justice Leo Strine is quoted as saying, “The most urgent justice issue we have is the continuing inequality in society.”

The state High Court has created a Justice Commission’s Committee on Fairness, to get information about how to improve the criminal justice system, and a racial imbalance in the system.

Well known attorneys, business and community leaders and other officials will specifically deal with the racial problems in the criminal justice system – looking at all or any causes leading to the difference in form, character, or degree.

It’s reported that public comments will be accepted from 6:30 to 8 P.M. at four locations: Dec. 1st at First State Community Action Agency, 308 N. Railroad Avenue in Georgetown; Dec. 2nd at Middletown High, 120 Silver Lake Road in Middletown; Dec. 8th Howard High, 401 E. 12th Street in Wilmington; and Dec. 9th at William Henry Middle School, 65 Carver Road in Dover.

It’s a sorry tale to hear that over 200 children, 76 percent being black, are locked up in Delaware prisons. African Americans making up 56 percent of inmates in Delaware prisons, but only 22 percent, as mentioned before, of the state’s population is black.

For the future of our children, that looks like a serious lack of justice to me.

The teenagers who have been arrested or spent some time in jail, reported that it feels like the system is set against them. Some of them feeling that some time in prison is sure to happen to them. Some of them blame that possibility on the way they are treated by the police, targeting their neighborhoods. Some claim it’s how they are treated by judges who are more likely to send them to prison. And then there is long term low-income leading to daily poverty that, in order to put food on the table, sometimes leads to criminal activity. On and on it goes.

Experts say economic and educational availability begin solving the racial disparities, leading to a direct relationship between opportunity and success later in life. I think something needs to be done on a regular basis to correct the lack of justice in our criminal justice system.

Delaware is “The First State” and it’s about time that it started treating all of our citizens like “First Class” members of the state.

We are told that Kathleen MacRae, the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Delaware, said the conversation, especially regarding policing strategies that contribute to the disparities, is important. She said, “I hope people in Dover at the Legislature pay attention to that. We as a society need to look at where do police put their efforts.” Makes sense to me.

And then we come to Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn, who proposed several reforms he hopes will create a “more fair” criminal justice system, as reported by WHYY.

In his remarks made to dozens of Rotary Club of Wilmington Members, Denn said the state has a moral obligation to ensure that punishments fit the crime, and not in the opposite direction. Going on the say, “We are the Department of Justice, and the goal we seek in each individual case is justice.”

You may notice that Denn never used the words black or African American in his remarks, but you should also notice that he made it clear that Delaware’s criminal justice system’s goal in each individual case is justice for everyone – no matter their race.

 John Watson is a long time observer of Wilmington and Delaware from his perch as a radio talk show host. You can write him:

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