How to fix our broken criminal justice system | Robert Barton | TEDxSanQuentin


Translator: Gabriela Ahearn
Reviewer: Denise RQ Good morning!
I am happy to be here today. Most people have no idea
what an Inspector General does, and that’s OK. Usually I get mistaken for
the Attorney General, and I explain, in California,
we don’t look anything alike. (Laughter) But as the Inspector General, part of my job is overseeing programs
within the Department of Corrections. I had a unique path
in getting to this place. I started my career in criminal justice
33 years ago as an officer, worked as an officer
in basically every capacity before going to law school
and becoming a prosecutor. And for 17 years, as a Deputy District
Attorney in a very conservative county, I was instrumental
in a lot of people going to prison. But I didn’t have to be real smart
to figure out, after a while, when I was prosecuting
the same person who went to prison, got out, reoffended,
went to prison, got out, reoffended, that our system was broke,
and I was part of that broken system. So when I had an opportunity in 2005
to join the Inspector General’s office, and actually have an impact on Corrections and have an impact on perhaps
changing what was going on, I took that opportunity. And four years ago, I was appointed
to become the Inspector General. So now I’m in a place where it would be easy
to see the failures, and it would be easy for those of us
in the system to get frustrated. But I am inspired by someone
we celebrated this week: Martin Luther King. And when he was asked about all the frustrations that he suffered,
all the suffering itself, he said, “You can either choose
to turn that into bitterness, or you can take that suffering and turn it into a creative force
for positive change.” And I’d like to think that most of us
in the system want to do that. And we’ve heard story after story today about people doing that. And so that’s what I want to talk
to you about today: transformation. A lot of times, we hear words,
and we think we know what they mean, but sometimes, it takes examples
for us to realize their true meaning. Transformation
in the criminal justice system can’t just take place with the offenders. We are hearing great stories today
about people transforming themselves. But it’s also got to be those of us
in the system and society at large. And I’m encouraged that it’s happening. Many of you in this room
are a part of it happening. And that’s encouraging. But we need to continue it, because transformation
doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a process. The definition is actually, “To undergo a change
or conversion in the use, function, purpose, or nature of being.” And we need to change
the way we use our prisons, the way we have our prisons function so that people come out better
when they leave and not worse. I would be the first one tell you that … it’d be naive to think
that that will work for every one. But there are certainly
a lot of people out there that it can work for. And it is a public safety issue,
we’ve heard from other speakers. So, what I ask people to do when we talk about
the criminal justice system is realize that we’ve been doing
the same thing over and over again the same way,
and expecting different results. (Laughter) (Audience) That’s insanity. That is insanity. And I am tired of
being part of an insane process. I want to see a change. In order for that to happen however, we need to realize
what the four goals currently are, and the emphasis that’s placed
on them by our system. I teach criminal justice or had
for ten years at the college level, and today, unfortunately, the purpose of criminal justice
is in this order: punishment, incapacitation
deterrence, and rehabilitation. And unfortunately,
we as a society emphasize it that way, but that is so short sighted; and believe me, I’ve talked
to hundreds of offenders, hundreds of victims,
hundreds of people in law enforcement, and all of us will tell you
that it’s short sighted. Punishment, as we’ve heard already, is something that is never
going to be a long lasting solution. Yes, there have to be
consequences for crime, yes, punishment should meet the crime,
but people should be allowed to change. And if they do – and as we heard
earlier, pay that debt to society – should be accepted back into society. So, punishment alone can’t be the answer. There has to be rehabilitation
that goes along with it. And quiet frankly, if deterrence worked, we wouldn’t have people in prison. You know, I’ve never talked
to an offender yet, who said, “I thought through
all the consequences of my actions before I committed my criminal act.” (Laughter) Are there that small percentage
that we heard – some of them today – the day they walked into prison
said, “I never want to come back.”? Sure, but it’s not that easy, because transformation is a process. The opportunities
have to outweigh the obstacles. And that third goal of incarceration – the goal being incapacitation –
is actually a fallacy. Yes, we get people off
the streets for a time being, but as we’ve heard, over 90%
will get out on the streets again. And it’s a fallacy also because, if someone is
really criminally minded, and I know there are men
in this room will agree with this, all your doing is changing their victim population
when you put them in prison. They victimize other inmates, staff, and if they have
connections to the outside, they continue their criminal ways. So incapacitation isn’t working either. So if punishment isn’t
the answer in and of itself, if deterrence doesn’t work,
and incapacitation is shortsighted, that leaves us with rehabilitation. And that’s really the only thing that, if we can make it real,
will have the longest lasting benefit to society at large. So what does that take? Well, I’ve already told you that the opportunities
have to outweigh the obstacles, and it’s a process. And we’ve heard
a lot of good stories today, and I want to tell you another one
about a young man named Miguel. And Miguel would be the first one
to tell you that he was a hustler, as we heard described earlier. He went through his youth selling drugs, being involved in gangs,
and ultimately, ending up in prison. And even when he got to prison
he was a hustler, but not in a good way of an entrepreneur, he continued to try to figure out ways to smuggle things in,
and con the staff, and so on. And he actually got himself
put in fire camp not because he wanted to learn
how to be a fireman but because he thought
that would be a better way to smuggle in tobacco and sell it. And when he got to fire camp
though, something happened. He went through the training, he went through the building
of the Esprit de Corps with his fellow crew members because they are carrying heavy machinery,
and you’re three inches from a saw blade, and you have to trust
that guy next to you. And they were sent to a fire
in Southern California in the Poway area. And they were told,
“You have to build this fire break because this small subdivision is at risk,
the blaze is coming towards it. We have evacuated the houses.” And they spent 20 hours
on a fire line creating a break. And that night the fire approached, and they watched as the break
held it back, and it receded. They spent the rest of the day
mopping up the hot spots. And then, the next morning, as they were walking out
down this two-lane road where law enforcement was escorting
the evacuees back to their houses, something happened. Cars stopped, families got out,
and they started applauding. And Miguel found himself crying,
and at first, he couldn’t understand it. But you see, that was his moment,
where he turned the lights on. That was the time
when something in him said, “I can be more than what I am now.” And we’ve heard
those stories all day long. Because transformation is a process. It starts however, with the person, taking personal responsibility
and deciding to change. Once they’ve done that, what happens when you turn
on your light switch at home and you don’t have a lightbulb? Nothing, it’s dark. So there has to be a conduit
for that force, there has to be somewhere
for that positive energy to go. Well, what he did
is he went back to fire camp, and all those other inmates
that he called suckers for wasting their free time
on things like education and programs, he got involved with. That was his lightbulb,
that was his conduit for his positive energy. And so, once he had that conduit, he started doing something
he never thought he’d do. And that was reaching out
to his family on the outside whom he had burned all bridges with
re-establishing those relationships. And pretty soon, guess what?
He was going to be paroled. And he told me that he got scared
because, “Will society accept me? Will they believe that I’ve transformed?
What am I going to do when I get out?” Because transformation is a process,
it doesn’t happen overnight. You’ve got to have that inspiration
to change, to turn that power on. You’ve got to have a conduit
for that positive power. And I want to say we’re getting there;
we’re nowhere close to where we could be: for every person that’s in a program,
there are 50 on a waiting list. But we are getting there. And we are moving in that direction,
and that’s positive. We need to have more lightbulbs out there, more conduits for
that positive change to happen. And then he got paroled,
and what he said happened was … It was a particular individual –
and we’ve heard this story today too – that believed in him,
that when he started to falter because there will be times
when people falter. What happens when a storm
rages to your lights? They flicker, sometimes they go out. And then who’s there? PG&E hopefully,
or whoever your utility company is to turn them back on for you, right? Well, we as a society, and the families that are out there,
and the people out there have to be able to
be willing to see folks, maybe stumble, but still succeed. Because otherwise, we have a system
which we’ve had for years, where we think our job is trying to figure out
how to lock people back up instead of how
to keep them out successfully. And that has to change because the opportunities
have to outweigh the obstacles. And so, those of us in the system
that believe this are trying to make that happen. And I know that there are
people in the system that are trying
to make it happen for themselves. So Miguel got out,
and he is successful now. Because he was able to turn on that light. He was able to have a way
to build on it, that positive energy. And he has a way to continue,
to have the utilities working, and have the utility bill payed
so that it continues to happen. Because what happens, again,
if you turn on your lights and you have lightbulbs,
but the utilities aren’t there? Your lights go off. So transformation is a process, the opportunities have
to outweigh the obstacles. And I want to leave you with something that I’m hoping will resonate
with all of us. And it’s an example of transformation. It’s a classic story of a person whose life had more obstacles
than opportunities, who wasn’t accepted by society,
who turned to criminal ways, but it took one moment, one realization –
and in this case, a little girl – to have this person change. And even more so, it took a society
that was willing to accept him after he went through transformation. I think you’ll all recognize this. (Video starts) (“The Grinch” show clip) (Laughter) And the Grinch’s small heart
grew three sizes that day, and then, the true meaning
of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength
of ten bridges, plus two. (Video ends) (Laughter) If the Grinch … (Applause) if the Grinch can experience
transformation, there’s hope for all of us. Thank you. (Applause)

22 Responses

  1. Ashlie Lawson says:

    "The opportunities have to outweigh the obstacles" love that.

  2. Matt Kelley says:

    This is what the we call in the retail space “opportunity” and this appears to be one of the most long-standing and turbulent issues in America. It affects those who are disenfranchised most; people of color and the poor. We MUST resolve this for a prosperous future and I hope with all my being to someday be a part of the solution. It’s even more flooring that this is the second comment on a Ted Talk. More people need to be aware of the system that hurts so many. The odds are stacked and we must be the generation that ends this cyclical repetition of harm to those who are the least likely to have a safety net. If you want change, come together. Those who are caught in the system can not reach upward social mobility. We must come together to transform this cruel justice system entrenched with racism and disenfranchisement. Please. If you read this, and if you care for your fellow man, do what you can to lead tomorrow into a prosperous day where equality is just and the justice system shifts its M.O. from one of partiality, to one of fairness and true justice for all of its citizens.

  3. T West says:

    Posturing and platitudes are nice to hear but the truth is that so long as money can be made by locking up the defenseless IT WILL NOT STOP!

  4. SRSOS says:

    For most things in our universe, there is cause and effect. But for some strange reason here in America, we choose blame-aggregation over devising solutions to the issues we face now-a-days. And I truly believe that is because we are yoked under a monetary system that "we the people" neither own or control. Everything after that is a result of it's machinations over us. It has us at each other throats on a daily basis for the exclusive benefit of the elite 1% or so.

    The criminal justice system in America isn't broken. It's hopelessly rigged and fixed.

  5. Mama non says:

    Glad President Trump has recognized these serious issues and is working to fix these problems for our society!

  6. troy lenz says:

    Good speech, but nothing will happen.

  7. arthur marshall says:

    criminal justice system is broken in florida

  8. arthur marshall says:

    release the non violent inmates sentenced for minor crimes you charlatan

  9. arthur marshall says:

    lots of hot air    …usa has most people incarcerated in the world

  10. NPN says:

    Stop the never ending supply of unwanted and abused children. Address the problem of people creating children that they are not qualified to raise.

  11. Johnfights4manyresons Johnfighys4manyresons says:

    When we have created so many laws they can’t be counted it’s a problem. We also have high courts where there rulings are overturned 80percent of the time. That’s broken that’s an agenda…

  12. chris532008 says:

    If premise is correct why are everyone in govt and especially judicial police system practicing criminals

  13. chris532008 says:

    Corrupt judicial people come st this late date and lament. We never saw this problem before but now have sn awakening and now have the solution. Low life s solution is job training for a non existent job that was long since sent to Mexico and all jobs available to an untrained were usurped by illegals refugees etc. down line purpose is to increase crime then taxes. Size of police judicial system and their oppressive income over backs of their victims

  14. Jenny Titus says:

    We need to bring back the guillotine!

  15. C. Hudson says:

    It's NOT just about felonies and prisons- it's also about misdemeanors and jails. These insulated idiots have NO idea what 'boots on the ground' are experiencing. The 'system' is designed to generate income- and to keep income from being diverted to the undesirables. To maintain the status quo. To think otherwise is naive. These talking heads can talk until they're heads roll off- but there is a bigger mechanism at work here. That is why there are so many policing bodies in the U.S. i.e., increasing laws and regulations, occupational licensing- and increasing restrictions, increasing immigration, ALL of it!! This machine is intended to keep certain people poor- and keep the rich….rich. FACT!

  16. Dennis Forntillas says:

    Please our Father in Spirit help us All, guide us so we may not get lost or even get tempted, keep you and me us all from bribery. All these I ask in the name of our lord Jesus amen.

  17. Jew Shirls says:

    Focus needs to Shift from giving publicity to the criminals and punishing them to Helping the Victims of crime & giving an attentive ear to the Victims instead. the System should be more Proactive in seeking to prevent at-risk folks from committing crime and rehabilitating convicts rather than just punishment which often leads to future victimization from recidivism and is a burden to society.

  18. gta4everrr says:

    We need to adopt the concept of restorative justice used in Norway. In Nordic prisons, criminals are sent to prison as punishment, they aren't sent there to be punished. They view the loss of freedom experienced while incarcerated as sufficient punishment. We also need to begin looking more closely at diversion programs that keep criminals out of prison, so we can lower prison populations and improve quality of life for those deemed a true threat to public safety. That means more access to a wider variety of rehabilitative programs. Unfortunately, none of this will ever change until we are able to vastly change how our society views criminality.

  19. Top Turn says:

    What kind of powder does ivanka use to get into court?

  20. Chris Kelley says:

    Though his name was Robert Baratheon… kind of disappointed now.

  21. Midnight Rambler says:

    step one.. stop illegal immigation. oh the democrats want that for their future voter base.

  22. guy laurent says:

    The justice system is a joke, it only works for the super-rich, and the ones who know how to beat the system, and has of late, for illegals living in sanctuary cities…

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