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Double Standards of Criminal Justice System: One for the Rich, One for the Poor


Dr Shakir Ahmad Shahid

 “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” was the proclamation made by pigs controlling the government of the “animal farm”. Other animals might have no objection over the declaration but from a ‘global sustainability perspective’ it’s seriously unethical to leak out the government secrets, and especially when such secrets are equally sacred for the ‘civilized’ human societies also. Though its display of rawness on part of these ‘animal pigs’ to talk so publicly about fundamentals of government policy but in a sense its heart soothing also that in this mortal world an additional group of animal kingdom “pigs” also stand by ‘humans’ in struggle for upholding of the cherished value of equality in ‘true sense’. Humans, being the most ardent advocate of values, have enshrined this principle of equality in all systems, especially the justice systems, which he designed to run his society.

A central part in the actual philosophy of justice systems is that every human is treated equally, regardless of his or her color, creed, gender, race, and class. However, like many good ideas, reality is much different than the rhetoric and a classic and easy to observe example of this disparity is the criminal justice system. Criminal justice system is a set of practices and institutions of governments directed at deterring and mitigating the crime for social control, or punishing those who violate laws, and rehabilitating the convicts. Generally four basic elements constitute a criminal justice system viz. police, prosecution, courts, and jails or corrections. Parole and probation departments work in coordination with jails or corrections. The police not only maintain public order by enforcing the law but also make investigations. In most common law countries, including Pakistan, courts adopt the adversarial processes as legal procedure. Generally there are four jurisdictions for punishment: retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, and societal protection.

Police department, which is the first leg of the criminal justice system, is a classic example of a sub-system which is systematically positioned to display the double standards while dealing with the rich and the poor. Where there exist huge disparities in internal structure of police there police is also poised to act differentially toward rich elites and poor non-elites due to its structural design. Many officers of superior ranks already come from privileged sections of society, and many from the remaining portion join the elite circles on functional or structural basis. Hence it’s no surprise that due to this anatomical pattern the police establishment is generally physiologically friendly to the elites. Additionally it’s unrealistic to expect neutrality from an organization whose various components owe their origins from unequally leveled grounds. The unfair nature of educational structure and the exams which breeds such “mini philosopher kings” of superior ranks is enough to predict the future course of its progeny.

Pro-elite attitude of the police is visible in many of its working patterns. It’s interesting to observe that during campaigns like “war on drugs” the “war” is generally waged against users belonging to marginalized poor sections. Though it’s another dilemma that during this war campaign when chronic addicts are impounded they have to be provided with drugs too to save them from dying. However, when they reach jails then some other mafias start taking care of their requirements. Another example of discriminatory character of criminal justice system is its attitude toward prostitution. Online internet market is teeming with advertisements about sexual services, and every nook and corner of cities have become supply points. However police are systematically prevented from intervening as by design prostitution is a way of social control wherein poor are used as a commodity. What more proof of double standards in the criminal justice system is required after seeing that good quality liquors are available on the shelf in posh hotels and motels which are exclusive to the elite class while the customers of cheap liquors are always haunted by discriminatory ghosts in the name of law enforcement.


Staged encounters are another classic example of the double standards prevalent in the criminal justice system. As per design police are all alert to nab, arrest, and investigate the criminals if they are from poor sections of society. So much so that blanket approval is available to police to kill these wanted criminals if they “attack police to snatch their fellow criminals”. Sometimes this death cycle imposed upon the poor criminals becomes a bit complex. First they are brainwashed to serve the interests of elites and when purpose is served then by changing their collar tags they are hunted down for maintaining peace and prosperity. The way they are used as guinea pigs in various political laboratories run by elites speaks volumes that the criminal justice system is not just for dealing with criminals but practically like a neo-feudalistic tool in operation to suppress the whole poor class from where most of the criminals originate. While on other hand the thugs and killers belonging to the influential class despite being caught red-handed are able to get clean chits from one or the other tiers of this very “just” criminal justice system.

Procedural methods employed by the criminal justice system are another arena wherein its discriminatory nature is exhibited even more vividly. In adversarial system, which is prevalent in most of the common law countries, the responsibility of facts finding rests with the case parties and their lawyers. On the contrary in inquisitorial system, the judge endeavors to discover the facts while simultaneously representing the interests of the state in a trial. Adversarial system of legal process not only adds the burden of expenses on the poverty stricken fellows but also affords ample opportunities to the “haves” to win more frequently as they are more likely to engage better lawyers and arrange superior material resources. Disposal of various criminal cases related to real estate tycoons and other rich people speak enough about the favorable tilting of the criminal justice system toward the rich ones. But when it’s a matter of poor people then they can be hanged before the disposal of appeals even.

The bail system available to the accused, which is money and property based, is another classic example of the discrimination that wealth can induce in a criminal justice system. This not only accords favor to the rich but also makes it clear that not every accused but only the privileged accused is the favorite child of the law and procedure operating in the criminal justice system. There are many examples wherein plaintiffs or witnesses were killed in courtyards by on-bail accused murderers and the case files became part of dust laden records forever. On the other hand, there are people who were accused of petty crimes, and were kept languishing in jails because they could not provide money or property as guarantee for bail. Parole and probation is another completely unprobed and uncharted territory where the remaining facilities and luxuries are available to the influential convicts under various clauses in ‘larger’ interest of the justice.

Composition of the jail population is another manifestation of the duplicate character of criminal justice system. The whole philosophy of punishments awarded to the poor is jail centric. These are the end resting places for those whose primary crime is poverty or who dare to challenge the dominant classes. Despite a much discussed plethora of lofty ideas to rehabilitate the criminals the prisons are still named as jails instead of corrections. Not only prisons are the tool of social control, which is proven and in practice since colonial days, but these are also acting as institutes of crime learning. Whoever goes to jail once then there is an overwhelming probability that now he would come out as a hardened criminal and keep on revolving in the vicious cycle of exploitation till his end. The frequency of recidivism tells that jails are least bothered to apply any policy for rehabilitation of the convicts. There is no mechanism in place to facilitate the social inclusion of the convicts released from jail rather all opportunities are available for them to join the running crime rackets and rings as active or sleeping partners, or to start their own enterprise by enlisting their jail inmates. Records of police investigation reports are witness to this phenomenon.

In view of the foregone it appears that by just apprehending, encountering, convicting, or killing a criminal the job would not be done. To prosecute a person who is already persecuted by a mega-matrix of systems unleashing a spectrum of criminogenic forces might have been accepted as a quick-fix in primitive societies but it does not suit the consciousness of a person who is developed, informed, civilized and enlightened. Not only is this abhorrent to a conscientious soul to see humans first becoming victims of criminogenic forces and then becoming victims of systems in the name of justice but it also is a fallacy from the perspective of sustainable management of crime. Developmental trajectories of criminogenesis tell that the happening of crime is a much more complex phenomenon. In addition to persons having criminal propensities a whole new arena of “crime inducing situations” is even more important to handle for sustainable management of crime which is only criminal and victim centric so far. Hence an integrated approach catering all agents, tiers and processes involved in performance of a crime should be adopted while reforming the criminal justice system.

In context of all forgone how delightful and prophetic are the words of Friedrich Nietzsche in his book “Human, all Too Human” that “our crime against criminals lies in the fact that we treat them like rascals.”

Shakir A Shahid

Dr. Shakir Ahmad Shahid, PhD, PSP, is a Postdoct Fulbright Alumnus in Criminology and Forensic Science, who has served in various fields like policing, investigation, intelligence and counter-terrorism on policy and operational levels as a senior police officer. He has also worked in fields of education, investment and rural development as a civil servant, and in the field of agriculture as a farmer. Dr. Shahid holds the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Chemistry with research publications in fields of bio-materials, bio-energy, polymers and forensic spectroscopy. He also holds the degrees of Master in Psychology, M.Sc Chemistry, L.L.B, and B.Sc (Biology), along with qualifications in fields of crime management, police command, public administration, international law, history, forestry, and agriculture. In addition to being PhD Research Scholar in Criminology he is a passionate researcher in theoretics of complex systems, entropy, negentropy, symmetries, information, cybernetics, socionics, emergence, evolution, resilience, sustainability, virtual and cognitive ecosystems, human behavior, radicalization, dissociation, national security, policing, intelligence armed governance, electro-magnetic spectrum, and forensic evidence management and its appraisal. He can be reached at [email protected]

Disclaimer: The views expressed are the writer’s personal , and do not necessarily reflect the view of his department of employment. Some errors in the write-up are intentional, and few might be due to lack of perfection on the writer’s part.