What is the Goal of the Criminal Justice System?

The United States leads the world in so many areas–including the percentage of incarcerated citizens. In 2010, the United States had 2010 prisoners in the criminal justice system, an increase of 66% from the prior decade.  Read these alarming statistics, as well as how the United States views corrections on journalist Maggie Messitt’s Learnist board “Prisons in America: A Primer.” 

Critical questions: 

1. What is the goal of the criminal justice system in the United States? Is it to get the bad guys off the street, or to improve society so that offenders do not reoffend?

2. Why are certain groups and populations represented disproportionately? Which groups, by percentage, are most likely to be incarcerated, and why? How can the criminal justice system better serve those groups?

3. Is there a role for restorative justice in the criminal justice system? Should offenders make amends, and is letting them do so helpful to victims?

4. What are the economics behind the criminal justice system?

5. What, if any, are some of the effective programs in corrections? What helps stop the cycle of crime and abuse, truly improving communities? Consider prison gardens, writing programs, dog training programs, and other programs meant to build job skills and raise awareness of what it is to be a good citizen.

6. The death penalty has been a hotbed political issue. Should the death penalty be legal? How does it affect society? What are the economics behind the death penalty?

We will discuss these and other issues. Please discuss in the comment section.

In Honor of Baseball Season

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 6.09.23 PMBaseball is part of the fabric of American life. It’s our national pasttime. It’s the sport of champions.  We have integrated baseball into every corner of pop culture. Baseball in New England and the Northeast carries special weight. Factories and mills scouted people, not for their industrial prowess, but for their ability to add to the mill baseball team. The Blackstone Valley League was a traveling team of mill players that added a bright spot to the dismal lives of the workers–baseball games began to represent community as people rallied around their team, especially in Connecticut and Rhode Island, where mills tended to be small one-stage factories employing entire families. Families worked in the mill, lived in factory housing, went to mill-built churches and schools, and spent their paycheck in factory stories. This form of paternalism (acting as the parent) was the hallmark of the Industrial period.

The history of baseball integration includes many groups, including African-Americans, Cubans, and even women. Everyone knows the story of Jackie Robinson, but not as many are familiar with the women who played on the All-Girls Baseball League which filled in the vacancy left by the men during World War II.

Here in Rhode Island, we hold proud to another piece of baseball history–the longest game ever. Taking place over three days, with the first two being played April 18-19, 1981, and the deciding inning taking place on June 23, 1981. The thirty-three inning game took over eight hours of playing time and left the AAA Pawtucket Redsox victorious over the Rochester Redwings.

Important baseball history themes include: 

1. The humble origins of baseball.

2. The role of baseball in industrialism and factory life

3. Baseball’s regional history in the New England mill villages

4. The first traveling teams

5. Segregation and reintegration of baseball

6. “For the love of the game”–How media has changed baseball

7. The economics of MLB today

Study baseball, play baseball, write about baseball–historians do, not only “for the love of the game,” but because it’s real history.

What can you change?

We watched a film clip about change. Students, the East LA 13, organized and staged a protest to correct inequality in their school system. Recall that we discussed the climate of the times, and that violence was often a risk of protest.

Please review the Learnist boards linked above and consider the elements of protest.

Critical questions:

1. What makes your issue important enough?

2. Do you have support?

3. How does the community view you?

4. What are the risks of conducting this action?

5. Is everyone dedicated enough to see this through to the end?

Your task today:

1. Make a short list of things you would like to see changed.

2. Which, if any, pass the test?  Do you need to do something small to fix them or something very large-scale?

3. Choose an item. Make a plan for fixing it. Remember–things that need change do not always need boycotts, protests, and actions, as seen in this movie. Sometimes things are very simple to fix using the proper channels. That is the goal of civics–learning about those channels, and applying them to issues that affect you.

Writings of Gandhi

The following selections are letters written by Gandhi.  Please read the following and analyze the critical questions.

Gandhi’s letter to Hitler, July 23, 1939

Gandi’s letter to Hitler, December 24, 1940

Critical questions: 

1. What is the objective of each letter?

2. What’s going on in the War at the point Gandhi sends each letter?

3. Research: Did Gandhi receive a response?  If not, what would you predict the response would have been? Write an annotated (short) response as if you were Hitler.

4. What does he mean by his “dumb cry” for peace?

5. How does Gandhi compare the British to the Nazis? What are the key differences?

6. How is Gandhi’s appeal to Hitler different than to the Britons? Why so?

Using Civics

We’re half-way through the year. It’s time to take a commercial break and begin to discuss what Civics can actually do for you. 

So far we have learned: 

  • About the founding of the nation.
  • The history of the ideas from which some of our key documents came
  • The agenda and perspective of the Founding Fathers who designed the structure of our nation and government 
  • How the original laws of our nation, the Articles of Confederation, failed.
  • How the Constitutional Convention shaped the Constitution
  • The two ways of interpreting the Constitution: Conservatives state it must be interpreted exactly as read–the Founding Fathers could have written otherwise. Liberals state that it is a living document that can be interpreted–the Founding Fathers did not have access to the situations we face today.
  • Why the issue of slavery was not included in the Constitution
  • How the Presidential election works
  • The points of view of Democrats and Republicans
  • How the government is involved in our lives at the national level
  • How laws are made and changed
  • The powers of the branches.
  • How to read, interpret, and use documents, laws, codes, and primary sources
  • How to understand Civics-based vocabulary.
  • How to analyze data and draw conclusions from the numbers based on your background knowledge of Civics and math.

Phew!  That’s a lot. I bet you feel pretty good right now. 

We will take a break and watch a movie, Walkout. It is the story of the East LA 13, who protested conditions for Latinos in Los Angeles schools.  By the end of this movie, you should get an idea of how civics can be used by the ordinary citizen (you). This is not just useful in education–it is in any area where government interacts with citizens. Keep those thoughts in your mind. We will consider them more deeply later.