At a recent House Judiciary Committee hearing, Attorney General Bill Barr described his interventions on behalf of Roger Stone and Michael Flynn as acts of fairness. Referring to Stone, for instance, he asked, “Do you think it’s fair for a 67-year-old man to go to prison for seven to nine years?”
How unsurprising that the president’s appointed law-and-order man focuses his commitment to fairness on wealthy, convicted Trump allies. He wouldn’t need to look far to find more grievous examples of our unfair justice system.
It’s well documented that our prisons hold thousands of people who are innocent or guilty of minor infractions. Recently deceased Rep. John Lewis and Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) Executive Director Bryan Stevenson wrote in a 2013 op-ed, “The blameless, particularly those who are poor, find it an onerous, nearly impossible burden to prove their innocence. With few resources for defense, they find themselves trapped by a system that presumes their guilt … many innocent individuals reluctantly plead guilty to avoid the longest prison terms or even death.”
EJI, the Innocence Project, the Bail Project and Centurion are examples of nonprofit organizations that, through arduous, lengthy legal process, are successfully proving the innocence of such people, one at a time. But many remain in prison who should be as free as you and I. Wouldn’t a U.S. attorney general driven by commitment to fairness see fit to also intervene on behalf of some of these penniless people lost in the justice system?
Stevenson has said, “We have a system of justice that treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent.” There’s no hope for change to a fairer system, as long as we have people like Bill Barr in charge of the Justice Department.
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