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ISSUES WITH JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL
Broken Justice: What`s Wrong with America`s Criminal Justice System?
Aired December 24, 2009 - 19:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, HOST (voice-over): Tonight, an ISSUES special presentation, "Broken Justice." ISSUES goes deep inside America`s criminal justice system. We have a horrific crime problem in this country. But is our criminal justice system fixing it? Or making it worse?
Every night we cover violent, sadistic and gut-wrenching crimes that rip families apart. Tonight, we`re flipping the script and focusing on the criminals. Have our prisons become criminal factories? America imprisons people more than any other country on earth. But are we locking up the wrong people for the wrong reasons? Petty criminals and nonviolent drug offenders doing hard crime behind bars, while dangerous sexual predators and rapists are being released, free to attack again.
And we`re going to talk to a woman who dedicated her life to reversing the vicious criminal justice cycle. We`ll follow her journey as she fights to keep a young man from becoming another statistic. Was she successful? It`s a story you`ll only see here on ISSUES.
Plus, is there a two-tier justice system in this country: one for the rich and famous, the other for the poor and powerless? We`ll look at some outrageous celebrity cases and examine whether they got special treatment.
An ISSUES special presentation starts now.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tonight, a special ISSUES investigation exposing the heart-breaking and mind-boggling reality behind our country`s very broken system of justice. We will investigate America`s horrific epidemic of crime and ask, "Do our punishments really fit those crimes?"
Sex offenders and violent sickos paroled and slipping through the cracks while petty criminals and non-violent drug offenders are often sent to the slammer for years. By the end of this hour, I promise you, you will be asking yourself if our prisons are nothing more than criminal factories. Turning out ever more hardened criminals.
Have America`s prisons become some sort of university of crime? If you`re outraged, that`s your cue to take a stand.
We begin with raw emotion: a first-person story, one that is very painful for my very special guest, Lisa Versace. Like many viewers of ISSUES, Lisa, a former TV producer, is determined to be part of the solution.
About 17 years ago, Lisa became a big sister of sorts to a kid from a broken home. To protect his identity, we`re calling him Cory. Cory had a dysfunctional upbringing in the projects.
Despite Lisa`s best efforts to prevent Cory from becoming another statistic, he simply could not outrun the odds or avoid the predictable dilemmas that he encountered. He`s bounced from county jails and is now in the clutches of the hard-core prison system. We`ll find out in just a moment why.
And is he a criminal? Lisa says no, he`s not. So why is he in prison?
But first I want to share a few passages from a gut-wrenching letter Lisa sent to a sentencing judge, pleading for compassion for this young man. As a child, Cory had a, quote, "diminished capacity to learn, retain, and connect the dots between actions and consequences."
Lisa said Cory would come to her, quote, "hungry, filthy, smelling like urine. At 6, he didn`t know his numbers, colors or animals. He didn`t know how to wipe himself. He would cry himself to sleep at night and act out by disobeying me."
But as they say, you ain`t heard nothing yet. Lisa, standby.
Coming up later. Is it possible to break the cycle of violence and incarceration? You will not believe who`s getting involved. One celebrity, Mark Wahlberg, even produced a documentary.
Unfortunately, most celebrities we talk about on this show don`t have such heroic acts on their resume. In fact, some have longer rap sheets than they do resumes. We will tackle this double standard of celebrity justice.
Let`s bring in my fantastic expert panel: Judge Karen Mills Francis, host of the "Judge Karen Show" and former Miami-Dade County court judge; Dr. Dale Archer, noted clinical psychiatrist; Tonya Acker, attorney and blogger for the Huffington Post.
But first Lisa Versace.
Lisa, thanks so much for joining me tonight. I know it`s difficult for you to talk about this very emotional and painful story. Why did you get involved in the life of this young man we`re calling Cory when he was just 6 years old? And how do you feel about the fact that he is now 24 and, at this moment in time, right now as we speak, in prison?
LISA VERSACE, FORMER TELEVISION PRODUCER: Well, first off, I`m devastated that he`s in prison. It`s turned my life upside down, because I love him very, very much.
And I got involved, and it wasn`t an intellectual decision. It was just put on my heart right after the Los Angeles riots to find a little boy, to help prevent him from getting into gangs. And, you know, that -- that was the reason to try to help someone from getting into gangs, give him a little extra love, a little bit of guidance.
But you know, he`s not a criminal. He`s wound up in jail anyway. And it just feels like, in some communities, there`s just no choice for the young men. That`s where they`re going to go, no matter what.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Judge Karen Mills Francis, you have obviously handled hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of cases. Is this sort of a metaphor with what`s happening in our criminal justice system, where if a kid has the misfortune of being born in a poor neighborhood in, perhaps, a minority neighborhood in the projects with a dysfunctional home, it`s almost like this person is on track to end up in the criminal justice system, despite the best intentions of those who want to help and the child themselves?
JUDGE KAREN MILLS FRANCIS, HOST, "THE JUDGE KAREN SHOW": You know, I want to commend Lisa for taking this -- you know, this big project on with this child.
I, myself, was a foster mother. I ended up with a 12-year-old kid who I met when I was a public defender in the juvenile justice system. The reality is -- is that poverty breeds a lot of crimes. The question becomes why is it that the majority of the people who are behind bars are people who committed non-violent crimes?
You know, in 1950, 72 percent of all people who entered prisons were white males. Now 57 percent of the people who enter prison are black males. Yet the percentage of blacks in the population hasn`t changed in all these years.
There`s a difference in the way that the system treats different crimes. We consider drug crimes, for some reason, more important than domestic violence, rape. Imagine, if you`re arrested with a kilo of cocaine, it carries a 15-year minimum mandatory sentence. There is no minimum mandatory sentence for raping a woman. There`s no minimum mandatory sentence for raping a child. But yet for the simple possession of drugs, regardless of what your past is, you`re going to get a mandatory prison sentence. I agree with you, Jane.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, you`ve raised -- you`ve raised some very important issues that we want to discuss, and that`s what we`re talking about tonight. Are the most dangerous of society`s criminals slipping through the cracks? While kids like Cory, that`s what we`re calling him, are locked up, destined to become hardened criminals, even though he didn`t go out to rob a bank or hold up a 7-Eleven.
But then there`s Phillip Garrido. OK, Phillip Garrido was a paroled sex offender, OK? He`s a guy who was convicted of violently kidnapping and raping a woman. He was originally sentenced to 15 -- 50 years, half a century. He was let out after 11 years. OK.
Why did they let him out? They said, oh, he was terminated early for responding positively to supervision. He went on to abduct...
FRANCIS: He didn`t have any children around himself in prison.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Right. And he went on to abduct an 11-year-old child, we all know, famous now, Jaycee Dugard, in 1991, allegedly raped her repeatedly, fathered two children with her.
So he`s allowed to leave and attack again, Tonya Acker, but a kid like Cory, who did not go out to commit a crime, ends up being fast-tracked into the criminal justice system, where his big sister, Lisa, is terrified that he`s being taught how to become a hardened criminal.
TONYA ACKER, ATTORNEY/BLOGGER: Of course, he is. Of course, he is. I mean, there`s no other mechanism to do anything else with these people in jail. But let me go back to some of the very good points that the judge made.
And part of the reason why you`re seeing this epidemic, why you`re seeing so many non-violent drug offenders locked up is because though are easy convictions to get. And I`m not trying to beat up on prosecutors, but when you look at the fact, when you look at how success is measured in those offices, they want convictions. It`s much easier to lock up somebody for selling some pot, to lock up -- the guy who`s got a third strike who`s found with a few joints would be in jail for 25 years to life.
Phillip Garrido`s out in 11 years. That`s a harder case.
I think that right now what we`re seeing is not just, you know, this institutionalization and privatization of the prison system itself, but you`re looking at prosecutors who are looking to rack up convictions. And that`s why they`re going after these cases and not the people who are truly dangerous.
And just one really quick point. You know, it`s not even just the violent offenders. I mean, we`re looking at other kinds of crimes that are routinely ignored. I mean, I was recently the victim of financial crime, which was, you know, wasn`t a huge case, but I`ve got to tell you. It has taken me two days to get a detective on the phone. Now, if I was -- if I had somebody who was an alleged drug dealer next to me...
VELEZ-MITCHELL: If you were rich...
ACKER: If I were rich -- if I were rich, that person would be -- he`d already be taken down. If there were a drug dealer next to me or if were - - if I reported somebody with a joint who had a third -- this would be a third strike, that guy would be locked up.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: I want to go back to Lisa. Lisa Versace, when your young man that you mentored was going away, you desperately tried to reach out to the public defenders. Tell us about that nightmare.
VERSACE: Well, the public defenders, in their defense, they are so overloaded. And his first sentencing, the woman that was defending him had nine cases the next day in court. They don`t barely have time...
VELEZ-MITCHELL: How many?
VERSACE: Nine. She was going to have nine the next day. They don`t barely have time to review the file, let alone know who the person is. I went to see her, and I was able to tell her his story. She said, "Please go home and write it all down. Get it to me by tonight. I will use that in court tomorrow."
But if I hadn`t been there, he would`ve received three more years than he received, based on just knowing that he was a person. They don`t even really know that they`re people. They don`t know their circumstances.
Look, they deal with tons of criminals. You know, they`re dealing with horrible people. And I`m not here to speak for the criminals. The criminals need to be punished. But there`s an entire population of kids and young men that go in there because they have ADHD. Cory has behavioral problems, impulse control because of his upbringing, and this lands him in jail? It`s so horrific because once he`s in there, now what`s going to become of him?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: You`re telling it like it is, Lisa. And this is what I have seen year in and year out, covering crime.
We`re going to have more on "Broken Justice," this special edition of ISSUES.
Plus celebrities break the law, but spend little to zero time behind bars. How is that possible? Is it fair? We`re going to take a look at the double standard of justice in the United States of America.
But first, what can be done to stop our prisons from becoming criminal factories? We`re going to take a look at some radical and practical solutions. Will any of them work?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE ARPAIO, ARIZONA SHERIFF: We have equipment to protect our inmates, protect our officers. So it`s very sophisticated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Back to our special ISSUES investigation.
The criminal justice crisis in our country has gone completely haywire. Take, for example, the state of Arizona. There`s that sheriff, Joe Arpaio, notorious for his controversial publicity stunt. Who could forget his innovative pink underwear prison uniforms? The apparent success -- huh? -- of that stunt led to pink handcuffs and other pink stuff.
Funny? I don`t think it`s funny. I don`t think ridiculing and humiliating prisoners is getting us the results we want. I think you`re creating a group of very, very angry people who are probably carrying a huge resentment, who are probably going to get out and be very, very angry. And we know what that means.
Arizona is now facing a huge budget crisis. To make a dent, state officials are going to extremes. They`re selling the justice system -- that`s right -- to the highest bidder. They`re privatizing Arizona`s prisons.
Arizona`s not alone. It`s a national trend. In 2000, there were fewer than 100,000 prisoners in private facilities. The number in 2008: over 126,000. This is big business, people.
You know, I think it`s very dangerous to involve the profit motive in the prison system, because it gives people an incentive to incarcerate more people to make money.
Lisa Versace, you have firsthand experience with this for-profit side of the prison system. Tell us about the "ka-ching, ka-ching" every time you tried to interact with the young man you were mentoring who was behind bars.
VERSACE: Well, first of all, they have to pay for everything. I mean, everything. They have to buy shampoo. They have to buy stamps. They have to buy their paper. You know, if he`s going to write to me, he phones me. He`s got to go through a special company where I have to put $50 on my phone, and so we can have a handful of conversations. It just -- it adds up.
But they don`t have anything. And then they`re like a cash system inside. If you don`t have any money, and no one`s helping you out, then you`re the dredge of the dredge. They kind of have a hierarchy. They`re sort of forced to be in the gangs.
Having a little money to spend at the store and buy their dollar ramen noodles or their $3 little sausage, you know, this helps them to be a little higher in the hierarchy.
But it`s like you said earlier to me: it`s like institutionalized cruelty. And I`m not speaking for the criminals. Criminals need to be punished. I`m talking about kids that wind up in there that have no business being in there. The only purpose is to ruin his life. That is the only purpose for these kids, is to ruin their lives.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Dr. Dale Archer, clinical psychiatrist. We know that a lot of this dysfunctionality, I dare say, 99 percent of it, comes from traumatic early childhood experiences that are not going to be resolved by locking somebody up. They`re going to be resolved by giving them treatment, helping them feel their feelings, working through. It`s called therapy.
If we took some of the money that taxpayers are spending for all of this stuff that we`re talking about and put it into therapeutic treatment for these kids at an early age, could we prevent crime, as opposed to simply letting these people become hardened criminals and then locking them up?
ARCHER: Absolutely. And with kids you basically have three conditions, which will be a predictor for those that will go on and possibly end up in prison.
No. 1, attention deficit, which is impulsivity. No. 2, bipolar, which is instability. And No. 3, learning disabilities. Now, all of these can be evaluated and treated. So I think that, with these kids, they should have a psychiatric eval as mandatory before any type of criminal proceedings are going on.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tonya Acker, you`re a blogger for the Huffington Post, along with being an attorney. Why is nobody talking about this? We are just beating our chest all over the place, all over the media, about crime, crime, crime. But honestly, violence is pornography if we do not discuss it in the context of solutions.
And yet, all anybody wants to talk about is "lock them up." When we don`t really look at the underlying social conditions that, if we examine, we might be able to prevent some of these crimes.
ACKER: That`s right, Jane. And I think part of the reason that we don`t do that is the same reason, you know, why any time you see a politician running for office, the first thing he or she wants to do is to celebrate his or her tough-on-crime credentials and to run around waving a gun to show how tough they are.
Because to the extent that we start talking about underlying issues, then all of a sudden, you know, there`s the folks on the other side who are going to say you`re being soft, or you don`t care about justice, and you don`t care about victims.
When what we`re really seeing now is a system that doesn`t look after victims of violent crime, that doesn`t look after real victims, but instead, going after people who are really engaged in a lot of victimless crimes. Because again, those are easier convictions to get. But it`s a lot of sound bites and a lot of political posturing, unfortunately.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, listen, I am against crime. I fight crime. I`m not in favor of criminals, as Lisa said.
But Judge Karen Mills Francis, I`m in favor of safety. We talk about a war on women in this country. You know, producing criminals and sending them to Crime University, which is prison, is not going to make me any safer. When they come out, they are going to be dangerous.
FRANCIS: But this is a great thing you`re doing. See, when we talk about criminals, like to hear Lisa talk about what`s going on with Cory, a lot of your viewers are going to say, "Well, big deal. What does he expect? He`s in prison." We need to understand the numbers.
In 1999, the Justice Policy Institute did a study. There were 1.8 million people in prison. But 1 million of them were there because of non- violent crimes.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Got to leave it right there. We`re going to be back in a moment. Keep that thought. We have more on our broken criminal justice system, a special investigation.
Celebrities, oh, they`re always in the news. But isn`t there a double system here? A double standard? A two-tiered system? If you`re rich, do you get away with it?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Welcome back to our special ISSUES investigation, our broken system of justice.
Check out this staggering statistic. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are about 2,311,000 prisoners in the United States. That works out to more than 1 in 100 adults behind bars. That`s right. I`m going to say it again. For every 100 Americans, there is at least one person in prison.
Adding insult to injury, the U.S. now holds the dubious distinction of having the highest documented incarceration rate and highest prison population in the world. I`m going to say it again: more people imprisoned in the U.S. than any other country.
What can we as individuals do to become part of the solution? We`re so focused on crime and punishment, we drop the ball on prevention.
Lisa Versace, you tried to help. What can one person do?
VERSACE: Well, all I did was try to help one person. And I think that, you know, trying to revamp the criminal justice system would be like emptying the ocean one spoonful at a time. If everyone reached out and picked one child or was able to help have a little compassion and help one person.
You know, I want to say something I want -- what Judge Karen said there. That, you know, why would people at home care? Oh, the person`s in prison, what do they expect? You know, that`s a really good point.
The -- the reason why people at home should care is because maybe you`ve got a good-for-nothing who`s just a good-for-nothing. He gets thrown in jail, and he comes out, and he`s a violent criminal. And he`s going to victimize you or someone in your family. That is why we should care.
Because they`re going in when they shouldn`t be there. They`ve got, you know, impulse control problems, behavioral problems. They make bad decisions. And then they come out.
I don`t even know what kind of life he`s going to have. Will he fall pray to what`s in there over this next year? Or will he be able to come out and make some sort of life for himself? He`s young; he`s 24. He has his whole life ahead of him.
FRANCIS: We no -- we no longer look at prisons as a place for rehabilitation. We look at it as a place for punishment. But it costs $30,000 a year to house a prisoner, $30,000. That`s more than the minimum wage. That`s more than if you were making $10 an hour on the job.
We can`t take that $30,000 and try to help some of these people that are not hardened criminals?
FRANCIS: And leave room for the violent people who should be behind bars for life?
Tanya Acker, whenever I see institutionalized cruelty, I always say follow the money. Follow the money. Somebody is getting very rich off of all of this.
ACKER: That`s right. And, you know, Lisa really hit the nail on the head when you talk about the fact that these inmates really are paying through the nose for everything.
And look, you know, again, I think like everybody on this panel. I don`t think anybody here is making excuses for people who do bad things. And we do want to see people punished, and we want to see justice meted out.
But by the same token, you`ve really got to be very suspicious when you see this cycle of easy-to-prosecute offenders being put -- you know, being incarcerated in private facilities where folks are making a tremendous amount of money. There`s something about that...
ACKER: ... it just doesn`t feel right.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Twenty seconds. What did -- what did your young man do? I understand he pushed somebody. He was holding his child and pushed his girlfriend?
VERSACE: Yes, domestic violence light. You know, he and his girlfriend fought. He pushed her. He was holding the child. It becomes a felony, child endangerment. You know, they fought. And nobody got hurt. And he`s -- you know, then you have someone like Chris Brown, who chokes somebody practically to death, and doesn`t go to jail.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: We`re going to talk about that in a moment.
Fantastic panel, stay right where you are.
Coming up, a Hollywood celebrity shines the spotlight on juvies. We`re going to show you a document.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tonight, an ISSUES special presentation: "Broken Justice". We`re focusing on the nation`s criminal justice system. Is there a two-tier system in this country: one for the rich and famous and the other for the poor and powerless?
We`ll look at some outrageous celebrity cases and examine whether they got special treatment.
Back to our ISSUES special investigation. A lot of people are trying to bring awareness to ISSUES involving our criminal justice system. One person is actor and producer Mark Wahlberg. At 16 years of age, Wahlberg was prosecuted and incarcerated as an adult. He turned that into a documentary called "Juvies" which profiles 12 youth offenders at a Los Angeles Juvenile Hall.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m in here for attempted murder.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m 17 years old. I was 16 when I was sentenced.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn`t know why they were killing this girl.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Wahlberg`s stance is clear; the juvenile system does not take the time to deal with each case which is a person, an individual, a human being. As an individual and as a result a lot of these kids are wrongly tried as adults; they might otherwise be reformed. Instead, we`re turning them into hardened criminals sometimes.
Back to my expert panel, and Steve Kardian former criminal investigator and director of Defend University joins us as well as CNN legal analyst Lisa Bloom.
But we`re going to start with the judge. Judge Karen, if you were given a pile of money to fix the juvenile justice system, what specifically would you do with that money?
KAREN MILLS FRANCIS, HOST "JUDGE KAREN SHOW": You know, I ended up being a foster mother because I saw a child 11 or 12 years old who wasn`t getting the treatment he need in the juvenile justice system. So I became his foster mother so that he could get drug and alcohol treatment, psychological treatment.
So if I had the money, I would put that money into the juvenile justice system. If you walked into the detention center, you would cry. Children sleeping on the floor, no supervision, they`re getting no help. And all we`re doing is creating little criminals to go on to the bigger jails. I would see those same children I saw in juvenile hall in adult prison four years later.
So I think that we need to start when they`re children and give them the help that children need so they can be productive adults.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: We are actually creating a new class in America, a criminal class. And we`re creating it. It`s not there. We are actually funneling these kids into the criminal class.
You know, so many kids are incarcerated for drugs. In fact, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention says drug offense cases increased more than any type of offense between 1985 and 2005. Yet these kids are not getting what they need most, which is drug treatment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) like this, it`s not helping them at all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There`s no rehabilitation.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The majority of the lifers here and across the street are youngsters.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ-MITCHELL: The only solution to a drug addiction problem and I can tell you this as a recovering alcoholic is a 12-step recovery program. Addiction does not go away within incarceration.
Now, the Obama administration recently urged against the prosecution of medical marijuana patients. I think that`s a fabulous step but Lisa Bloom, does it go far enough? Isn`t it time to de-criminalize marijuana and use those resources to provide drug treatment?
LISA BLOOM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. Here in my state of California, 78,000 people were arrested and prosecuted for marijuana crimes last year. You can only imagine the millions of dollars that were expended and who cares? Most of us don`t care. We`d like to see it legalized and taxed.
When you`re thinking about kids, Jane, think about what we do with our kids. You have a problem, you`re bored, you can`t sleep, you give them a pill to solve that problem. When they get a little older, they`re not feeling so great, they take some drugs, we lock them up in prison. It doesn`t make any sense. We`re giving them one message about prescription drugs. We`re giving them another message about illegal drugs.
Any time you have an 11-year-old or 12-year-old as a drug addict that is the fault of the family or all of us who are giving these kids the wrong messages and no help. And to lock up a child like that, I say shame on all of us who do that.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Steve Kardian, you`re kind of representing law enforcement here. And listen, we`re all pro-law enforcement. I`m for throwing dangerous criminals like child predators and rapists and murderers in the slammer for good.
I think what we need to do is make the penalties and the punishment and the incarceration time for the serious violent offenders longer and stronger. And stop funneling all of these kids who had the mistake of being born in a poor neighborhood and/or a minority neighborhood and are growing up in the projects and they end up getting sort of funneled into the criminal justice system for crimes that are really not violent crimes.
These are kids making mistakes who have impulse control, Steve Kardian. What do you say?
STEVE KARDIAN, DIRECTOR, DEFEND UNIVERSITY: Jane, I think that I agree with Lisa, I agree with you that we should de-criminalize marijuana and let officers, law enforcement have their resources dedicated to more serious crimes.
In most states across the country, the mere possession of marijuana is the equivalent of a speeding ticket. Take a police officer off the road for two hours to process such a minute violation is a waste of our services and good efforts.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Today, all states allow certain juveniles to be tried in criminal court or face adult sanctions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the kids you see here in orange are being prosecuted as adults. Today, over 200,000 kids are sent through the adult court system each year.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ-MITCHELL: This documentary was released in 2004. Judge Karen, is it getting worse? It seems to me that now, with one out of every 100 Americans incarcerated in one shape or form, that we are literally entering this sort of brave new world where an entire segment of the population is almost pre-destined to be tracked in the criminal justice system.
MILLS FRANCIS: I absolutely agree with you. That same Justice Department report I referred to earlier -- think about this, Jane. India has four times the population as the United States. Yet, we have five times as many people in prison as they do.
What does that tell you? It has become a business. And when you can take a 14-year-old or a 15-year-old and prosecute that child who can`t do anything else as an adult, but he can go or she can go and sleep and live with a bunch of hardened criminals, that`s a problem. I think it has become a business.
It`s a business.
BLOOM: Jane, when it comes to juveniles -- when it comes to juveniles, we are the harshest system in the world in terms of incarcerating our own children. We are the only civilized country in the world that sends children to prison for life without the possibility of parole.
The United States has over 2,000 kids in that situation. The rest of the world combined 12,000. And that`s according to Amnesty International.
We just throw away the lives of our own children. The most rehabilitable group of people, we just throw them away; 13 and 14, many of them will never see the light of day again. They`re in prison for the rest of their lives. That`s another shame, I think.
MILLS FRANCIS: Why did we stop caring?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Steve Kardian, there`s a vicious cycle here. And part of the vicious cycle is when these kids get out they`ve got a scarlet letter around their neck that says that they`ve been incarcerated so nobody wants to touch them. Nobody wants to hire them. Nobody wants to interact with them.
So really the only solution they have in many cases is to engage in criminality to support themselves; and then they`re rearrested. It`s a vicious cycle, clearly.
KARDIAN: Yes, in law enforcement we see early intervention as a primary -- as a primary focus to get them help. And without the early intervention, I think that they will get lost in the system.
Once they`re in the system, understand the job of a police officer and law enforcement is to arrest you and have you go before the criminal justice system for the crimes that you`ve done. We need early intervention in the schools, during the process from the time they`re arrested until they are released back or returned back fully into society.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: You know, studies show that many of these young kids simply have behavioral problems. They have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, impulse control problems, which lead them to make bad decisions. The way you correct that is not by locking them up in an institution where they get to hang out with other kids who are making very bad decisions.
The answer, I believe, Judge Karen Mills, if I had all of the money in the world, I would really revamp the educational system. The educational system in America was supposed to be the great equalizer where anybody could really sort of even the playing field and get a fresh start. And it`s not that anymore.
MILLS FRANCIS: Jane, it feels like we all want to press the easy button. Everything is easy now. We don`t have to go shopping anymore, we could do it all online, we can do everything on the computer. We don`t have to work at anything.
And it seems like we don`t even have to be parents anymore. There`s TVs, there`s video games, there`s Chuck E. Cheese, there`s all kinds of different things you can do to help you raise your child so you don`t have to be a parent.
I think it starts in the home, it starts in the community, it starts in the school, but it`s got to be about us caring again. And not saying, oh, my God, what went wrong? It started at birth.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: But there`s a vicious cycle here, because a lot of the kids that are getting involved with this criminal justice system are then coming out and there is a lack of awareness about birth control and pregnancy prevention. There`s a cultural stigma against using condoms, even, and they`re also having kids, which is another part of the problem; kids having kids.
Everybody, stay right where you are. Coming up, we`re going to take a look at the unequal scales of justice. Does fame and fortune keeps celebrities out of trouble?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Welcome back to a special ISSUES investigation. We`re shining a light on our nation`s broken justice system. It is a two- tiered system; a double standard. One set of rules and outcomes for the poor, another for the rich and famous. If you`ve got money, you get to hire a legal dream team to get you out of whatever trouble you`re in.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We the jury in the above entitled action find the defendant Orenthal James Simpson not guilty of the crime of murder in violation of penal code section 187-A, a felony upon Nicole Brown Simpson.
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VELEZ-MITCHELL: O.J. Simpson, Lindsay Lohan, Robert Blake; just a few of the celebrities who many believe benefited from a judicial double standard. Think they would have beaten the charges against them if they only had a public defender fighting for them? We know the answer to that.
Both the price and the pace of justice in our country favor those with power and money. How do we change that? How do we level the playing field?
My panel, fabulous panel back to debate it. Lisa Bloom, you and I have both had the experience of going to court early to cover a celebrity case. You get there early and I`m always astounded at how fast the public defenders are bing, bing, bing -- knocking one defendant after the other through a system, talking a language they don`t understand. I can barely keep track and sentenced one after the other like we`re on speed.
And then the celebrity comes in and it`s slows down.
BLOOM: That`s very true, Jane. And it`s true for celebrities and it`s true for anybody who has got money. Unfortunately in our system if you`ve got money, you not only get to hire the finest attorneys, but you can hire the finest expert witnesses which can make a huge difference in your case.
And the public defenders I think are really the unsung heroes in our system: underpaid, overworked, fighting for justice for people who are poor, who nobody cares about. They`re doing their best, but we don`t give them enough money to really put on much of a defense.
Did you know, Jane, that the U.S. Supreme Court has said that it is not, not ineffective assistance of counsel if your attorney falls asleep at counsel table? If your attorney is drunk during trial, that`s ok. That`s ok if your attorney does that and if you`re poor, that`s the kind of attorney sometimes that you`re going to get.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: And I agree, I don`t think that I want to blame public defenders for treating their clients as a number when they`re handed 20 or 30 cases and they`ve got to handle them all. How else are they going to treat them?
We need more public defenders, obviously. But there`s sort of an institutionalized bias against doing that because that is somehow viewed on being soft on crime. Right Judge Karen, that`s soft on crime if we provide more public defenders.
MILLS FRANCIS: Right. I remember when I became a public defender, there was an article in the "Herald" where people rated the jobs that they hated the most. Number one was dog-catcher, number two was public defenders. I always remember that.
So a lot of people don`t think a whole lot about the public defender because they think they`re somehow coddling criminals. But if you`re a public defender and attorney in that office every day, at least in the public defender`s office here in Miami, you have 95 to 100 cases on your calendar every day. It`s not nine or ten cases; it`s 75, 95, 100 cases a day.
I think, though, when we talk about money and justice, it`s true of life, period. If you`ve got money you`re going to live in a better neighborhood. If you`ve got money, you`re going to drive a better car.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Wait a second, though. You know what? There`s a big difference between those nuances of one`s lifestyle and going to prison. I have gone to prison as I`m sure all of you have, I`ve gone to do an interview and I have to tell you the claustrophobia and the horror just being there for a couple of hours is overwhelming.
We`re talking about locking people up and putting them behind bars.
Now, singer Chris Brown was considered squeaky clean, the boy-next- door before he pummeled his famous girlfriend Rihanna last February. Here`s a TMZ photo of her swollen, bruised face. The police report says brown threatened to kill her as he slammed her around inside a car.
But thanks to attorney to the stars Mark Geragos, who`s a very good attorney, Brown got a very sweet plea deal, no prison time, just community service, domestic violence counseling, and probation. Now contrast that, not serving one day in jail.
Lisa Bloom, with the experience that we were talking about earlier of this young man who had the misfortune of being born poor in a minority neighborhood, fast tracked into the system, he`s now in prison doing hard time for pushing his girlfriend.
BLOOM: Well, unfortunately, a lot of the first-time offenders in domestic violence cases here in Los Angeles don`t get any prison time. And I think that`s a crying shame. I think Chris Brown should`ve gotten prison time. I think everybody who punches their girlfriend in the face, chokes her, bites her -- that`s what he`s accused of doing, that`s what he pleaded guilty to -- should go to prison.
But certainly you get a break when you have celebrity attorney, when you`re a celebrity yourself. That celebrity attorney can get in there and negotiate, negotiate, negotiate, and keep fighting and fighting it until finally the district attorney says, "Ok, all right, I`m sick of this case. Let me be done with this case. I have so many other ones."
So I think celebrities do get a break generally. In this case, most DV offenders don`t get prison the first time around.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: My favorite example is Lindsay Lohan. Her legal problems really highlight these celebrity double standards of justice which also applies to the rich. The actress was arrested for DUI in 2007 after a truly bizarre high-speed chase through Malibu.
According to three men who were with her that night, Lohan jumped into the driver`s seat of an SUV not her own to chase down her assistant`s mom. One of the guys says Lindsay drove over his foot as she tore out of the parking lot with others inside the SUV. Lindsay allegedly reached speeds of 100 miles an hour.
At one point she allegedly told the guys, quote, "I cannot get into trouble. I`m a celebrity; I can do whatever the BLANK I want," end quote.
You know what? She was right. She could`ve faced a laundry list of charges, felony charges: like carjacking, kidnapping, and assault with deadly weapon. But in the end, Lindsay was charged with DUI and drug possession for the cocaine cops say they found in her pocket. She ended up serving 84 minutes in jail.
Steve Kardian, had she been a minority young male from the inner city, wouldn`t she have faced a whole slew of charges and ended up undoubtedly doing hard time?
KARDIAN: I think that she would`ve been treated differently. I think that she should`ve gotten time. But when we look at cases like this with celebrities, Jane, we have to look at jurisdictions by jurisdiction, agency by agency, judge by judge and system by system.
Look at Plaxico Burress in New York when the Manhattan DAs office wouldn`t cut him a break for that gun charge. He sent him to jail for 2 years, no question.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: If I had the power to do anything about all of this, here is what I would do. I was talking about the educational system. I would start in early grades with therapy, with group therapy.
I have benefited from the 12-step process. I know the power of sharing; I know the power of talking about your emotions.
What I would do is encourage 12-step therapeutic counseling with sharing in the public schools so that these kids get to deal with their emotions so they don`t have to act on them. I would teach peaceful, nonviolent conflict resolution. I would teach anger management before their sentence, before they punch, before they hit.
KARDIAN: Jane for president.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Everybody stay right where you are. More " "Broken Justice" in a moment.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Welcome back to this special edition of ISSUES: a special investigation exposing the countless problems of our broken system of justice.
You know many celebrities may not agree it`s broken. That`s because they have the money and the influence and the power to get out of trouble when they do something wrong.
Back to my fantastic panel. Lisa Bloom, I was talking about some of the solutions that I envision of teaching emotional intelligence essentially to kids who are not getting the kind of structure that they need, the kind of guidance, the kind of boundaries. Maybe the educational system needs to be revamped to teach kids more basic skills before they go ahead and teach them history and logarithms and all of these other things that they`re never going to have the chance to put into use if they`re behind bars because they have no impulse control.
BLOOM: Jane, it`s so important what you are talking about. It`s prevention. And it`s not sexy to talk about prevention. It`s much more fun for everybody to say somebody committed the crime, let`s throw the book at them, let`s lock them up for life and we can rant and rave. And prevention takes a lot of work on the ground by people who are generally unrecognized: teacher, counselors, parents.
I say, that certainly, any young person needs to get rehabilitation and counseling and juvenile hall and even any offender who is going to ever be getting out, which is nine out of ten offenders in our country, need to be get counseling.
I mean, do you realize that people don`t get counseling in prison? So they get out of prison, generally worse than when they went in. They`re going be out amongst us.
Even if you don`t have a heart and you don`t care about the offender, you should care about the safety of the rest of us. They need to unlearn bad habits and learn new ways of doing things.
We`ve got to give them those kinds of services in prison. We`ve got to give them job training when they get out. We`ve got to follow them. We`ve got to help them so that they don`t re-offend.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: And one of the reasons that we`re doing this special is that I literally want to pull my hair out in tufts when I see this double standard of justice and nobody is talking about it. Deep pockets can bail out the most outrageous and heinous crimes.
Let`s for example take Robert Durst; now he was acquitted. The real estate mogul was one of the wealthiest people in America when he was accused of murdering his neighbor. Investigators say he confessed to shooting a man, chopping up his body, loading the parts into garbage bags and dumping them into Galveston Bay.
But his high-priced legal team convinced the jury that the killing was self-defense and Durst was acquitted despite his confession. And some who are in the courtroom said even he was surprised by that.
When I see an example like that, but then I see an example of a kid who grew up in the projects from a broken home pushes his girlfriend, ends up doing hard time, Steve Kardian I get angry.
KARDIAN: Yes, Jane so do I. The courtroom is a stage; many times we see whoever puts on the best act is the winner in this case.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: We`ve got to do something about this, though.
Judge Karen Mills, I am not talking about this because I`m soft on crime; I am tough on crime.
MILLS: I know.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: But when I cover this horrific crimes, day in and day out; month in, month out; year in, year out and we are not talking solutions, then, I think there`s a pornography of violence if we are simply approaching it as a curiosity and a form of entertainment.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: It has to be part of the solution.
MILLS: Jane, it came up last week when we talked about the fact that 2,300 women and children go missing every day; that we can`t find these people. That means that there are pedophiles and serial murders that are out there all the time. Why aren`t they the ones in prison? Why aren`t they the ones behind bars?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Exactly. And I think we`ve ended on a fabulous note.
Thank you, fabulous panel for joining me tonight.
BLOOM: Thank you.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: A special presentation of ISSUES.