The Age Of Light
Whitney Scharer
Contributed by Elene Blackwelder
Chapter 10

Throughout this chapter, Swenson continues to expose flaws present in the U.S. criminal justice system. He begins by explaining how Rickey Jackson’s sentence was painfully extended by ten years when he sought parole. Swenson states that before the “War on Crime” and the “War on Drugs” decrees, prisons acted as facilities promising to rehabilitate inmates through appropriate programs, aimed at reforming prisoners so that they would leave the institution a better person. However, the two decrees only served to “funnel generations of the urban poor into the prison system” (Swenson, 2019, p. 161). Aside from that, Swenson postulates that the American criminal justice system is primarily flawed because of its decentralized setup: “…each state has its own criminal justice system with the federal courts running parallel to the local judiciary” — which, according to the author, “creates a mess of overlapping jurisdictions and crisscrossing legal avenues, counter-case law, and precedent and political leanings – a lot of white noise often drowning out pleas for real help” (Swenson, 2019, p. 162).

Swenson asserts that “the American criminal justice system is not wired for claims of innocence” (Swenson, 2019, p. 162). During post-trial cases, Swenson explains how the higher appeal courts tend to assume that the original judge or jury came to the correct conclusion in deciding the defendant’s guilt or innocence, and thereby rarely review the facts unless “something new enters the frame”. In a 2011 study which examined the success rate of post-conviction appeals on behalf of exonerates before DNA testing proved their innocence, Swenson explains that ninety percent of  high court appeals had originally failed to help innocent men and women in 250 exonerations, but were later achieved through DNA testing (Garrett, 2011).


Once again, the author portrays the American criminal justice system as deeply flawed. He uses Rickey Jackson’s case as an example of a man being punished with an extension of sentence after seeking parole only for it to emerge, nearly four decades later, that he had been innocent all along. Swenson blames the decentralized nature of the American criminal justice system as the principle reason for its failures. Swenson points to the crisscrossing and overlapping jurisdictions, which creates a mess and can obscure and drown the pleas of innocent people.

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