Our current system of justice is one of the things we can barely make sense of. Altering the cultural dynamic that stymies our ability to constructively address ways of changing the justice system requires a national dialogue that can challenge the tacit cultural patterns of the system and American culture. We are experiencing what could be a historic moment in our collective understanding of how the contradictions of and between our social, legal, and economic systems can be used to catalyze fundamental changes in order to re-create our justice system and redefine its role in society.
One source of this change must be a transformation of the culture of corrections, which will, in turn, initiate a shift in our society’s relationship to both the people who work for and those who literally live within our justice system. Among the factors that fragment the justice system (and continue to drive high incarceration rates) are the cultural functions and symbolism of punishment.
Whatever our opinions about the necessity or wisdom of punishment, I do not anticipate that the American criminal justice system will abandon it soon. And whatever the size or reach our correctional system may have in the future, it is not going to suddenly disappear.