The National Securitization of Traditional Criminal Justice


Dr. Jason Michael Williams I Criminal Justice I Analysis I June 27th, 2013



In the post-911 era, traditional criminal justice processes have become nearly ancient. For example, according to some scholars within criminology/criminal justice, the administration of justice presently finds itself at a strange crossroad (Wacquant, 2009; Garland, 2001; Braithewaite, 2000; Simon, 2007). This crossroad has been linked to several paradigmatic shifts that have been occurring within the crime control complex that has governed the administration of justice since the 1980s. Some believe this shift is the consequence of late modernity (Garland, 2001; Monahan, 2006) and others blame neo-liberalism (Brown, 2010), and the changing currents within the social, political, and cultural contexts. Birthed from this discourse are crimes of late modernity. These crimes consist of terrorism, cyber- crime, and other crimes categorized under the umbrella of national security.

What is of essential importance is the context in which the mechanisms of punishment and crime control has changed. For example, traditionally, rights afforded to U.S. citizens via the Constitution were off limits and could never be challenged or taken away under any circumstances; however, today, because of various laws and powers of the Executive Branch of government, U.S. citizens are at a greater risk of being punished and surveilled by the government. A good indicator of this reality is the current debates on the Obama Administration and the National Security Administration's (NSA) spying program. The ACLU has taken measures to combat the intrusive qualities of the NSA's spying program.

According to the ACLU, the U.S. government does not seem to have a concrete purpose for collecting data on its citizens; it simply alleges that, by doing so, it makes it easier for intelligence officials to identify trends and possible leads later. This shifting in the administration of justice implicates a minority report-effect wherein law enforcement has become involved in the business of preemptive-law enforcement. This shift is a process whereby the government investigates to prevent crime but under a dogmatic notion that everyone is possibly guilty before committing the crime. This logic is abundantly counterproductive to the usual processes of law enforcement. However, the biggest question regarding this discourse is why this is happening and what are some critical elements that may need to be contextualized for a better understanding on what is occurring.

In the post-911 era, the crime control model of administering justice has been placed on steroids. Packer (1968) describes the crime control model as a process in which justice is swift and based on just deserts. There is very little room for improvement of the individual under this model, for justice is at best an assembly line and crime is never-ending and unfixable. The crime control model operates off the presumption of guilt, which is congruent to the way in which the system operates today under preemptive-law enforcement. Large quantities of cases are brought into adjudication and convicts are swiftly assigned punishment. In fact, many cases are never brought to court due to the continuous movement of the system and the large amounts of persons being charged daily. According to the Bureau of Justice Assistance, 90-95% of defendants on both the federal and state levels never reach the trail stage due to plea bargains, which have more striking cons to them than pros. Timothy Lynch of the CATO Institute has written a compelling article that focused on government's response to one's option/right to a trial by jury, thus alleging that government retaliates against those defendants who are apathetic to pleas.

On the other hand, Packer describes the due process model as a more egalitarian approach to administering justice. Under this model, the humanity of the victim and perpetrator is recognized, and there is no loss of Constitutional rights for either side. The due process model understands that error can occur within the fact-finding process and makes strides toward making sure that such errors are avoided and considered; thus, it tries to maintain the integrity of justice.

However, the impact that all the above has on modern day criminal justice is one of the most important questions that must be answered. Since 911, social control has become more punitive. Government can now surveil people in ways never done before. Techno-surveillance has become a very attractive tool in modern-day spying. More strikingly, state and local law enforcement agencies are starting to impersonate federal protocol. For example, many states now have counter-terrorism units, cyber-crime units, and departments of homeland security and emergency management. These advents are indicative of a dual police state (federal and state), or a system in which surveillance reigns supreme 24/7 and within all spaces of governance.

Another critical element to process is the extent to which the private sector has increasingly become involved in the administration of justice. Because the post-911 era brings with it a hyper-punitive platform of administering justice, mass incarceration has become a huge phenomenon and profitable idea to many in the private sector. Some scholars have looked at private prisons and the reentry industry as two of the main beneficiaries of mass incarceration (Thompkins, 2010; Wacquant, 2010; Hallett, 2006; Price, 2006), alleging that private prisons and reentry organizations profit off modern-day punishment and surveillance. For example, Thompkins (2010) explains that, many times, ex-prisoners are recommitted back to prison because of their inability to prioritize their need to work alongside attending counseling sessions with reentry organizations. As a result of not attending mandated counseling sessions because of simple scheduling concerns, many ex-prisoners are sent back to prison to repeat the never-ending cycle of surveillance; meanwhile, reentry organizations and prisons continue to profit off their misery and endless captivity.

The private market found its transformational niche in criminal justice after 911. As a result of 911, intelligence became the key focus within crime control. The government wanted to prevent another attack from happening, which gave the intelligence community an opportunity of a lifetime; however, much of what it was and can do requires the voluntary submission of many civil liberties from the citizenry. This new focus would later become known as the intelligence industrialization complex. Under this complex, intelligence is outsourced to private entities to conduct the usual tasks of intelligence gathering and assessment that would be done by government agencies. However, due to neo-liberal logic, this task has been handed over to private industry under the ludicrous assumption that the private sector is free of error and more efficient. Sadly, most are unaware of the effects this has caused on the local levels of law enforcement. It has turned ordinary citizens into criminal suspects. Preemptive-law enforcement has become part of the daily routine within traditional criminal justice. For example, occurrences of police brutality have been met with extreme protests within the last decade. Civil protests have become occasions for law enforcement to test their counter-terrorism exercises on apparent non-threatening citizens, and policies like stop and frisk have become legitimated under the mantras of "get tough" and "crime control."

Under what appears to be a national security-criminal justice, even law-abiding citizens are suspected criminals, and much of this "suspicion" has racial implications behind them. For example, a report by the Public Advocate, analyzing 2012 NYC stop and frisk data, found the following:

1. The likelihood a stop of an African American New Yorker yielded a weapon was half that of white New Yorkers stopped. The NYPD uncovered a weapon in one out every 49 stops of white New Yorkers. By contrast, it took the Department 71 stops of Latinos and 93 stops of African Americans to find a weapon.

2. The likelihood a stop of African American New Yorker yielded contraband was one-third less than that of white New Yorkers stopped. The NYPD uncovered contraband in one out every 43 stops of white New Yorkers. By contrast, it took the Department 57 stops of Latinos and 61 stops of African Americans to find contraband.

3. Despite the overall reduction in stops, the proportion involving black and Latino New Yorkers has remained unchanged. They continue to constitute 84 percent of all stops, despite comprising only 54 percent of the general population. And the innocence rates remain at the same level as 2011 - at nearly 89 percent.

The above findings are grounds for new theorization on the impact of national security and its impact on localized crime. Localized crime under national security-criminal justice has become just as punitive and totalitarian as crimes on the federal level regarding national security. Furthermore, this new formation of administering justice as noticed above seems to have a disparate impact on racial-minorities. The disparate impact has more to do with labeling and stereotypes than any genuine threat. Furthermore, immigration is another "crime issue" in which to contextualize under national security-criminal justice. Immigration, of course, has racial implications behind it as well due to the assortment of pejoratives used against Spanish-speaking persons who are automatically alleged to be "illegals."

What is most important about this new system of social control is the extent to which it has hyper-punitized the traditional system of criminal justice. The same justifying arguments used by the Bush and Obama Administrations have been used by local government officials concerning, for example, stop and frisk and Mayor Bloomberg. Much of this justifying rhetoric is believed by many due to the unwavering presence of totalitarianism. Most people do not care to know whether or not a certain law or practice is just, especially when the law or practice does not affect them. This is the case with stop and frisk, whereas most Caucasians in NYC are not particularly concerned about stop and frisk because their Mayor and flawed police statistics tells them minorities are to blame for rampant crime and, therefore, minorities will be the targets of stop and frisk. However, funny enough, this narrative works notwithstanding the facts as reported by the Public Advocate as well as prior data that had long depicted that the myth of the dangerous minority could not be further from truth.

By framing certain criminal acts under national security, the traditional methodology of responding to crime becomes obsolete. Instead, adjudication is very swift and harsh, and justified by a zero tolerance ideology. There is very little room for fact-finding, which takes away the scrutiny that usually comes with traditional trials. Nonetheless, what is especially intriguing is the extent to which some traditionally domestic issues have suddenly become part of national security discussions, and many of those issues are tied to politically powerless groups. For example, in NYC at one time, there were talks regarding the labeling of street gangs as terrorists. Another issue would be immigration and the extent to which republicans/conservatives believe immigration to be pertinent to national security. Both of the aforementioned issues have racially-anchored implications hidden in the subtext. Therefore, policy implemented in those areas can only lead to disparate treatment onto those selected groups hidden in the subtext (Monahan, 2010).

Moreover, the state will argue the need for such precautionary measures in the name of risk management, which is the quintessential logic behind preemptive-law enforcement and post-modern surveillance. This logic is also legitimated through the use of fear as a tool of galvanizing support for the new form of social control-national security-criminal justice. As the traditional system of criminal justice becomes more like that of national security, citizens can expect harsher policy and penal control. Sadly, much is not being done to on behalf of researchers and government regarding an exploration on the extent to which the powerless will be as always innocent victims in this paradigmatic shifting (see, e.g., Haggerty & Samatas, 2010; Manahan, 2006;).

With the ongoing and aggressive warehousing of undocumented persons and citizens in private detention facilities, and the continued expression of racial disparities in the criminal justice system, time can only tell whether or not the American people will tap into a greater consciousness that will catapult the system into a more egalitarian reality. However, in order for such a revolution to happen, the essentialist concept of hyper-individualism must cease to exist. Furthermore, justice itself must be re-conceptualized to fit the post-911 context (see, e.g., Hudson, 2009) to make brainstorming on this matter efficient. People must begin to sympathize with others, they must begin to see beyond the context of the self and discover the interconnectedness between those who are not suspected criminals (predominantly Caucasian) and those under indefinite surveillance (predominantly people of color). Otherwise, national security-criminal justice will continue to turn the U.S into a police state that will eventually impact everyone - even those who may not be targets of this vicious system at the present time. The national securitization of traditional criminal justice is partly due to society's inability to understand issues of late modernity, and so instead of evaluating the issues logically so that a proper response can be applied society responds in the only way in which it knows. It responds via the institution of usually racist, xenophobic, sexist, and classist, campaigns against the "other/issue," which routinely gets entangled into the criminal justice system, because punishment and social control is of course the only option in America.



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