It seems like someone gets their charges reduced every week in exchange for pleading guilty, which was definitely the case last week when James Ritland was sentenced after pleading guilty to three misdemeanors and getting only 25 days in jail with one year of probation. He was initially charged with five felonies.
If you look at the circuit court and traffic court violations, you will see this process of reducing charges all over the place. Someone will get four traffic violations on top of their OWI, but suddenly they only have the OWI and all the other charges are dropped. I’m not talking first-time offenders either – I’m talking those that are on their fifth OWI. The same thing happens for drug offenders.
For those looking in at the system, it just doesn’t seem fair. It doesn’t seem like these people that did all of these terrible things should get off so easy.
I sat in amazement in the courtroom when I first heard the Monroe County District Attorney say that he was recommending $125 fines for each of Ritland’s three misdemeanors.
Luckily the La Crosse County judge had some sense and upped the sentence, which still doesn’t seem like enough. It still felt like Ritland was getting off easy and his victims were not getting the justice they deserved.
I’ve been questioning our justice system ever since I was sitting in that courtroom—wondering where I felt criminal justice reform should go. Wondering where we as a society went wrong.
Today our prison system is overflowing as America imprisons more people per capita than any other nation. Jackson County is no different as you can see from our overflowing jail.
There is just something wrong about a system that lets people off easy, and yet imprisons more people per capita than any other nation. It tells me we have many deep issues that we need to look at.
For starters we need to start rooting out poor character at a younger age and engaging cornerstones of what it means to be a good human being like integrity, honesty and compassion. We can’t just teach our children how to be smart, we also need to teach them how to be a good human.
Every time someone breaks the law, that means we let another person down. That means we didn’t help that person at a young age deal with the pain they have experienced in their life. I don’t think we realize the things some of our children have seen by the time they are 10—what they have been subjected to.
Then when people break the law, we should be just and fair. Everyone should be entitled to a strong defense, not just the one they can afford. There needs to be a fix for those like Ritland that get off easy, while there are others that get years in prison for lesser crimes.
Once people are imprisoned, we continue to let them down. While prison should be a punishment, it should also be an opportunity for them to change who they are and get the help that we as Americans didn’t give them when they were younger. It should be an opportunity for those convicted to change their life.
Then once these “prisoners” get released, they continue to be prisoners in society. It is so hard for them to release the stigma that goes along with being convicted that they are hardly able to survive, often times reverting back to their old habits.
Instead we should be lifting those people up and helping them stay away from those habits. When someone is released from prison, we should be grabbing ahold of them and telling them they should move in this direction instead of going backwards.
All of this keeps coming back to one point: We as Americans need to stop letting other Americans down.
I don’t fully understand our criminal justice system in the U.S., but I do think there are many deep problems. Problems that I’d like to think we can solve.
We need holistic change at every level: school, courts, prison, rehabilitation, community and the list goes on.
Only then will we get the change we are aiming for.