Lynching in America continued from the 1920s up to 1980, according to Pima County Public Defender Joel Fineman.
Arizona incarcerates a higher percentage of the population than South Africa did during apartheid. “We are not the land of free and home of brave as long as that statistic is true,” said Pima County Public Defender Joel Fineman.
He spoke recently at a program on mass incarceration sponsored by the Arizona Ground Game (TAGG), a grass-roots Progressive organization that encourages active citizenship through neighborhood building.
“Mass incarceration is a long and ugly story, a bloody and racist tour of where we’ve been,” he said. “The good news is that mass incarceration is actually one of easiest political problems to solve.”
Part of the problem is the universal use of plea agreements to end criminal cases. In 2013, 97% of criminal cases in the federal system were resolved by plea bargains.
“The average sentence for federal narcotics defendants with a plea agreement is 5 years,” Fineman said. “For defendants who went to trial, the average sentence was 16 years — more than 3 times the years in prison because they chose to exercise their constitutional right under the 6th amendment to have a trial by jury.”
Plea bargains are an unfair contract, where the prosecutor (the Pima County Attorney) has all the bargaining power and the defendant has none. “The criminal justice system is more interested in moving cases along than dispensing justice,” he said. “As a result, you get the highest incarceration rate and the highest number of people in prison. The judge is not the most powerful person, not the jury, not our state representatives or congress people — it is your local prosecutor. They are by far the most powerful person in the criminal justice system.”