The United States is the leading country in the world with the highest number of persons incarcerated in jails and prisons; and also the leading country with the highest number of prisons, most of which have been built over the last few decades (Parenti, 1999). In the United States, like many other countries worldwide, incarceration is the major method that is used as punishment for convicted persons besides probation. The United States prison system is one of the oldest which is run and overseen both by the state government and the federal government. This means that states have responsibilities and duties to run prison facilities in their jurisdictions as well as budget and plan for the construction of new ones. By 2009, the total number of US federal prisons had exceeded the 115 mark, this is without counting the military prison facilities, state prison facilities and county jails among other forms of prisons that are usually outsourced by the governments from private companies (Parenti, 1999).
Despite a general reduction in crime rate over the years, the United States prison system has continued to grow to be one of the most massive worldwide with a record 7.3 million incarcerated persons in 2008 which continue to rise every day (Parenti, 1999). It is on this backdrop that this paper sets to discuss several issues that are pertinent to the current sentencing methods of convicted persons which is a role delegated to the US judicial system.
The debate on the necessity of having the federal courthouse doors reopened to convicted state prisoners is one that is bogged by various issues of justice, state sovereignty and legal laws (Champion, Hartley and Rabe, 2008). There are two important aspects of justice that one needs to keep in mind when considering this decision; one is the possible misconstruction of justice to both victims as well as to the convicted person. While the proponents of those who advocate reopening of federal courts have a point as far as issues of justice and constitutional rights of the convict are concerned; this process by its nature incidentally renders the application of justice open to abuse. As such because the decision to open federal courts to handle appeals from death row convicts has its advantages and disadvantages what is needed in this case is therefore a form of cost-benefit analysis that weighs the benefits of such an action against the potential harm that it might cause in the prison system as well as to the society at large.
An important achievement that the opening of federal courthouses will have on the judicial system is the provision of a lifeline to convicts who were possibly erroneously convicted previously (Champion, Hartley and Rabe, 2008). This is because the federal courthouse provides for additional channels and opportunities through which convicts can utilize towards having their sentence reduced or revoked altogether when it is just to do so. This is certainly a crucial safety valve that ensures the judicial system does not wrongly convict and continue to incarcerate innocent persons and would be a great provision were we to assume that a great number of inmates are wrongly convicted which current statistics indicate to be the case albeit negligibly.
Apart from this, the importance of opening federal courts to state prisoners serves other important functions of providing legal remedy as well as setting legal precedents on cases that it considers to have been wrongly arbitrated at lower courts (Champion, Hartley and Rabe, 2008). Largely because of this second fact I would advocate having federal court reopened as a way of facilitating justice. In addition, in my opinion, federal courts are more objective in their arbitration than state courts which means they are more inclined to provide an unbiased ruling on a case upon appeal than is the case with states courts.
On this issue, I believe that the federal court should limit the number of reviews to just one but with exceptions on cases with extraordinary issues. This is because inmates desperate to have their sentences reduced have now abused such principles as habeas corpus which is one of the channels that they can use to have their case referred to a federal court. In fact, the issues and circumstances under which a convicted person can demand an appeal based on habeas corpus ground are as numerous as the circumstances of the crime itself including the issues of the trial process (Champion, Hartley and Rabe, 2008). This nature of habeas corpus provides a window through which correctly convicted inmates who are guilty of their crimes get to defeat justice thereby denying the victims of the crime the comfort of knowing that justice has been done. Indeed, it is not by coincidence that the majority of death row convicts almost always institute appeal on their sentence on habeas corpus ground, the majority of whom are presumed to be guilty of the crime they were originally accused of.
In any case, if more than one federal review of these appeal cases was allowed it would amount to a waste of time and money given that any appeal cases take several years on average up to 15 years in a new trial that ends up costing the taxpayers thousands of dollars which will most likely lead to upholding of an earlier sentence (Champion, Hartley and Rabe, 2008). This is delayed justice and unnecessary expense that should be allowed only under circumstances that are extremely necessary.
In a research study that sought to compare data on incarceration rates of various countries, the United States was found to be six times more inclined to imprison any type of offenders compared to other equally developed nations in Europe (Slevin, 2006). The research study applied the Peace Scale of Punitiveness, a form of a scale that uses qualitative and quantitative data to determine the relative rate of incarceration in a country (ThirdWorldTravellers.com, 2006). The implication of this study in this context is that a slightly significant number of people who might be innocent persons would also be caught up in this frenzy of imprisonment thereby making it necessary to provide correctional measures that might result from such an outcome.
Currently, the judicial system is structured in a way that is fair and balanced to both the victim and the defendant. But like all forms of judicial systems worldwide the probability of wrongful convictions exists in any trial, this is most unfortunate in cases that carry capital punishments. There are several notable cases where the inmates were wrongfully convicted for capital offenses for several years only for the sentence to be quashed by a federal appellate court such as that of Joseph Burrows and Ronald Jones among others (Champion, Hartley and Rabe, 2008).
For these reasons, there is a need for federal courts to provide a limited leeway that can be successfully used by an innocent convict to correct a wrong but also tight enough not to allow previously convicted guilty persons to navigate through and end up making the judicial system a joke.
As such, my opinion will be to maintain the current status quo since it has provisions that ensure that as many as possible suspects who are guilty are successfully convicted without erroneously convicting suspects who are essentially innocent. Indeed, the number of inmates who are believed to be innocently convicted in US prison cannot be accurately determined which means it must be negligible. What is also notable is that the present judicial structure has the form of safety valves of resolving these issues when they do happen through habeas corpus which would potentially qualify a wrongly convicted person for pardon
Champion, D., Hartley, R. & Rabe, G. (2008). Criminal Courts: Structure, Process, and Issues. New York: Prentice Hall.
Parenti, C. (1999). Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis. Web.
Slevin, P. (2006). US Prison Study Faults System and the Public. The Washington Post, P.A4
ThirdWorldTravellers.com. (2006). The U.S has the Most Prisoners in the World. Web.