The Judges Rule

By Jasmine Gomez
Judge Outraged As Defendant Comes To Court Naked From The Waist Down

The story of the “judge outraged as defendant comes to court naked from the waist down” has gone viral over the past couple weeks. The story focuses on the heroic judge who saved the day for this one black woman who was being mistreated by the Louisville Metro Corrections jail.

For some people, it’s easy to see the judge’s reaction and think positively about our criminal justice system. For some people, it’s easy to see her reprimanding the jail officials and use that as an example to highlight that we have good people in the criminal justice system. For some people, it’s easy to see this video and forget about all of the injustices constantly plaguing black and brown families due to the design of our criminal justice system.

Other people, often those intimately involved with the criminal justice system, do not have the privilege to ignore the realities they experience everyday. Women in jails around the U.S. are frequently undergoing inhumane treatment by jail officials. For such people, the commentator on the Kentucky case is preaching to the converted in comparing the system to a broken car that really needs to be junked. We are all-too-familiar with the systemic failure of the system.

For example, women in Santa Rita Jail (located in Berlin, California) just reached a settlement with the Santa Rita corrections facility itself. The lawsuit was filed because of the conditions the officials forced the women into. Civil rights attorney Anne Weills said the women had to endure the following:

[D]eputies searched them roughly and ordered them to strip down to their bras and parade in front of male guards after threatening them with violence if they didn’t do so.

‘It was extremely humiliating,’ Eisenberg [one of the plaintiffs] said. ‘Everywhere I looked there were male faces just staring. The deputies stood right behind me, and I could actually feel them breathing on me.’

In addition to their own mistreatment, the plaintiffs said they observed guards taunting other female inmates and refusing to give menstrual pads to women who needed them.

‘The toilet was overflowing with blood and feces. There were menstrual pads all piled up in the corner already used,’ Weills said.

These situations are far too common to be the product of a working system. To top it off, not all judges have the ability to truly defend the underprivileged. The legal and criminal justice systems currently work to protect the status quo. In Louisville, Kentucky, Judge Olu Stevens, a black judge, used social media to discuss his frustrations with Attorney Tom Wine, a white prosecutor. Wine was questioning Judge Stevens authority to ask for a new panel of jurors because all of the jury members for the case were white. Judge Stevens took to social media to critique that notion, saying that in practice Wine’s actions were an “attempt ‘to protect the right to impanel all-white juries.'” As a result of his comments, Judge Stevens recently accepted a 90 day unpaid suspension, as well as 7 counts of misconduct by the state’s Judicial Conduct Commission.

Judges cannot be seen as the pioneers of reform for our time. They cannot help change the criminal justice system, they can only do what is allowed of them while working for the system. If we expect a just criminal justice system, we must reach out and energize the community. The community getting together, recognizing the harms of the criminal justice system, and working to push policy that restores all of us rather than inconsistently harms some of us, is where real change comes from.

Don’t let this viral video of a good judge lull you into thinking we have a working system. As my colleague says, “even a broken clock is right twice a day.”