CRIME AND PUNISHMENT IN AMERICA<br> According to the U.S.<br>Department of Justice, there were 2,085,620 prisoners being held in<br>Federal, State and local prisons and jails on December 31, 2003. This<br>figure adds up to an estimated 482 inmates per every 100,000 U.S.<br>residents.<br> There were 3,405 black male<br>prisoners per 100,000 black males in the United States in prison,<br>compared to 1,231 Hispanic male inmates per 100,000 Hispanic males and<br>465 white male inmates per 100,000 white males. The number of Native<br>American prisoners weren't listed, partially due to the difficulty of<br>identifying who and who isn't considered Native American. <br><br><br> While the prison industry is<br>bustling, it is obvious that the punishment meted out is doing little to<br>curtail crime. What has caused this problem of lawlessness? Could it be<br>the justice system itself?<br> When the white man first stumbled over<br>this land, they discovered a vast array of tribal people who knew little<br>crime. Ruled by the clan system, every aspect of a person's life ran<br>according to the agreed upon laws of the whole tribe. To disobey or<br>break a taboo meant sure and certain counselling, punishment (which<br>might include death) or banishment. Being banished from a clan was a<br>fate worse than death since the person had no status anywhere.<br><br><br> Native justice is based on balance.<br>If I commit a crime and must pay a fine or give up part of my life, not<br>only have I hurt another person's family, but my family is affected,<br>too. Sending me to jail might make someone feel good, but how will this<br>help the victim? What will become of his family or mine?<br> In the tribal way, if I commit a<br>crime, everyone involved would meet with the elders and tribal judges to<br>talk things through. I would be confronted by the victim and his family<br>who would be able to tell me how much I have hurt them. Other respected<br>people of the tribe would be able to tell me how I could have avoided<br>the situation. My own family would be there to support me or to tell me<br>how my actions have hurt them.<br> I would have the opportunity to<br>apologize and some form of repayment would be worked out. My punishment<br>would be by consensus. Often times a healing ceremony would follow. I<br>wouldn't feel alone and ostracized and I would have the opportunity to<br>erase the shame of my actions. I would know I was part of a community<br>and my relations wanted me to make things right and be in balance.<br><br><br> The court system we live under now is based on authority, rank<br>and the ability to hand out punishment. Lawyers earn large fees for<br>defending a client. Often guilt isn't as important as a loophole and the<br>more money a person has, the more loopholes are available. Native<br>peacekeeper courts are based on respect, tradition, clan laws and ways<br>of dealing with people and problems that restore balance and harmony.<br><br><br> Our society is sick. It isn't going to get better until balance is<br>restored. Crime and punishment or justice and healing? We must find a<br>better way.<br><br>