View from the Zoo
It’s called the criminal justice system, and if you asked a dozen different people why we have it or what its purpose is, I bet you’d get a dozen different answers.
Some would say it’s there to protect us from those who would harm society, while others might talk about the importance of ensuring that we all follow the same rules or that we all be treated equally.
Whatever the reason is, though, it must be pretty important. After all, locking up one of our fellow citizens isn’t a decision or a power that we should take lightly. Hopefully it’s only done to serve the interests of justice, to advance the causes of fairness, morality, and equality.
I’m sure that’s what we’d all like to think.
Culprit and victim
I thought about that when I saw a news story the other day about a pharmacist arrested for stealing painkillers from her workplace. In the accompanying mug shot, I saw the frightened expression of a 28-year-old woman whose life had just changed forever. Six years of excruciating academic work, internships, rotations, exams, late-night learning, more exams. So much that had to be overcome, now all for naught. A career gone poof.
According to the article, her problem began with treatment for a medical condition and escalated to full-scale addiction. One person’s actions, hidden under a cloak of shame, destroying one person’s life, with a pit stop at the county jail.
Her employer waited until her shift was over before firing her, by the way. I suppose someone figured on wringing all the productivity they could of the situation before they let her go.
And now, the macro view
A while back, one of her employer’s competitors also ended up in a bit of legal trouble connected with controlled substances. Two of its stores ordered and dispensed 3 million tablets of oxycodone in 2011, enough to provide 113 tablets each to every man, woman, and child in the town where they did business.
This went on until the DEA noticed, at which point the drugstore chain decided to become cooperative. One corporation’s actions, out in the open for all to see, destroying the lives of who knows how many people.
But there was one difference. In this instance, there was no jail time for anyone involved. The pharmacies lost their licenses, which meant next to nothing for the corporation that operated them. Steps were taken to minimize any disruptions, papers were shuffled, and circumstances were managed to minimize inconvenience.
After all was said and done, the corporation with the 3-million-tablet oxycodone problem made $3.8 billion last year, while the woman who was caught with an 80-tablet problem had to scrape together money for bail.
I’m not sure about you, but I don’t feel any more protected knowing that that young woman went to jail. I don’t feel any safer knowing that she is now barred from putting her skills and knowledge to use. And unless she gets the help she needs to overcome her addiction, I’m not at all confident that she won’t remain on a track to self-destruction.
And the next time a corporate suit faces a choice between doing the right thing or profiting by looking the other way, well, I definitely don’t have much confidence that they won’t immediately find a way to see no evil.
Say what you want about why we have a criminal justice system. But as long as it criminalizes a sickness while deferring to those with wealth and power, whatever the system's reason for being, the word “justice” does nothing to describe it.
Maybe it should just go by the name of the criminal system.
David Stanley is a pharmacist, blogger, and professional writer in northern California. Contact him at [email protected]