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Is The Criminal Justice System Fair?
By Judith A. Yates
Published: 12/10/2012

Lady justice In July, 2012, David Johnson, Jr. of Bedford County, Tennessee held his wife captive for three days, systematically beating, raping, torturing her, and threatening her life. Officials called it “The worst case of domestic violence seen.” His wife escaped and she now lives in fear; Johnson is on the street and stalking her. How is this fair?

David Johnson bonded out after the first arrest. He was arrested stalking his wife; he bonded out again. Johnson’s wife must reside at an undisclosed location, trying to raise her children, keep a job, and attend therapy sessions. Of course, the charges are “allegedly;” his attorney has attempted to plea, but the District Attorney wants it to go to trial. He, and the officers who investigated the case, want to see Johnson receive the maximum sentence. Until then, trial dates are set, attorneys meet, and the victim and her family keep looking over their shoulder. Who, really, does the criminal justice system work for?

Our system has gone through an array of changes since the Walnut Street Jail received its first prisoners in 1776. The United States has been through many eras: reform (“reformatory”), inmates were sent to lockup to do penance (“penitentiary”), the era of punishment (chain gangs, corporal punishment). Now we have found ourselves, quite often, questioning, “Has the system turned too soft on crime?”

Our punishment system was modeled after that of old England, except we created laws and rules to protect us from “guilty until proven innocent.” Despite the evidence, David Johnson has proclaimed innocence. He does have his rights. He has the right to legal counsel and the right to not be abused in custody. He cannot be tortured or beaten, raped with foreign objects, like he did to his wife. The system must protect Johnson, and all inmates, in safety and security. This is difficult to explain to people like his three children, who also live in fear. It is hard to understand if you are the victim’s family and hoping their loved one survives until the perpetrator is locked away. The truth is also difficult to understand when you work in the criminal justice system and you see the David Johnsons, appearing to have “all the rights” when victims appear helpless. It is tempting to wish Johnson to the electric chair, the guillotine, or worse. But this is not how our system operates and we have to respect the methods.

When Mrs. Johnson escaped, she ran, bleeding, screaming, as he attempted to run her over in the car. She ran for her life that day, and found it. She is making a recovery, albeit slowly. David Johnson drove off to reenter the criminal justice system and is now progressing through the system, which is making every effort to ensure he is safe. Should he go to prison it will be the job of the Warden, the officers, and the staff, to guard him. It may not seem fair but it is the law.

The criminal justice system is based on our history and works for all people. Individually, it appears to not punish certain people in certain cases. Laws often seem unfair and biased. Like every employer, the system has good and bad. Our job in custody is to follow the rules and laws, to do our best every day. As a seasoned officer advised me once, “We can’t police the world, just our section of it.”

More on the Johnson case: http://www.examiner.com/topic/david-johnson-jr-case/articles

Corrections.com author, Judith Yates, is a criminologist who has lectured on domestic violence prevention for over 20 years. A former Correctional Officer Specialist and trainer with the Bureau of Prisons, she is now a true crime writer and a trainer available for guest speaking engagements. She can be reached at judithayates@yahoo.com

Other articles by Judith A. Yates:


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