Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ron Paul Unveils New Economic Plan

Too Conservative for Conservatives, Too Liberal for Liberals

GOP Presidential Candidate Ron Paul laid out a plan on Monday that slashes over a trillion dollars in a single year from the Federal Budget.

Congressman Paul plans to completely abolish five major government departments. This includes The Departments of Education, Energy, Commerce, Interior, and HUD (Housing and Urban Development). He also aims to privatize the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Security Administration. On top of that, he plans to audit the Federal Reserve and cut the President's annual salary from $400,000 to $39,336 which is the average household income for American citizens. His outline also freezes spending in most other departments as well as reducing the Federal Workforce by 10%.

Doctor Paul's proposal also calls for all US troops to return to America, ending the War on Terror immediately. How fast is "immediately"? His definition is obviously quite different than President Obama's. The current President has been in office for three years and we still have troops in over one hundred countries across the globe. So what does "immediately" mean to Ron Paul?

"As fast as the ships can get there".

Paul has been called an isolationist for criticizing the military industrial complex in America. Evidently, prioritizing the safety of American lives over a never-ending quest for global dominance makes you anti-social. Paul has opposed the war since its onset calling it "unconstitutional" on many occasions. It is ,after all, an undeclared war much like Vietnam. While Paul's foreign policy emphasizes trade with all nations, he stands firmly against the US getting involved with entangling alliances.

Paul's plan to audit the federal reserve and abolish the income tax in America comes coupled with the idea that federal government be downsized to its smallest possible form. You cannot have one without the other. As long as citizens are allowed and encouraged to not participate in their own democracy - as long as they expect the government to cradle them and care for them in every aspect of their lives - you cannot get rid of the income tax. However, if you reduce the size of the federal government and empower the states to run themselves, you give the people back the power they were meant to have all along.

Rightwing members of the propaganda machine have taken serious offense to Paul's plan to save the American Economy. So-called "conservatives" seem to be extremely eager to throw taxpayer money in any direction they choose. They have created innumerable and unnecessary departments, expanded the reach of government into the private sector, and surveilled and infringed upon citizen's rights, all on the backs of the unwilling taxpayer. What exactly makes conservatives conservative? What exactly makes liberals liberal? They both want two things. Big government and big business run symbiotically with big government.

Critics have been saying something along the lines of "Do you realize how many people are employed in those departments? The unemployment rate would skyrocket!".

I would find it interesting, if it wasn't so deplorable, that all of a sudden conservatives think that people should get paid to do nothing... as long as they are upper class white men.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


I started this blog in 2009 and haven't posted a thing on it. I suppose that was around the time I was simply getting burned out on politics. I also hoped for other writers to jump on and start up the conversation. Discouraged, I just let it rot. My interest in providing commentary to the tragic comedy that is today's world politics has returned. I've decided to resurrect this blog to cover the events of Occupy Wall Street and the other Occupy movements. I'll mostly be focusing on Occupy Chicago, since it is the one I am involved with. If anyone wants to throw down with me, you're more than welcome. It is now, when I'm on the streets of Chicago, that I remember that we are the roots.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Loyola University Chicago, stop robbing me!

In the fall of 2007, I officially became a Loyola University of Chicago undergraduate student. In the fall of 2007, I also officially became nothing more than a walking bag of money to Loyola execs. Yes, they’re executives of a corporation. I am by no means religious but as far as I know, religion is supposed to be a positive thing, Loyola should be ashamed to claim the Catholic religion; it’s a money-hungry corporation on par with Wal-mart. Bernie Madoff cared more about his clients than Loyola cares about their students. Father Garanzini is a glorified CEO with funny clothing.

I should have run to the University of Illinois at Chicago when I received the president’s first letter addressing the tuition hike. Since then, there has been a hike every single year, without fail. Effective Fall 2007, tuition increased 4%; effective Fall 2008, tuition was increased 5.5%; effective Fall 2009, tuition was increased 4%, effective Fall 2010, another 4%; effective this coming Fall, tuition has been raised 3.75%. That’s over 20% is just 4 years. And, by the way, this is just undergraduate tuition; the room & board fee increases literally make me queasy.

Thus far, Loyola has cost me $127,000 and that’s about to go up another $40,000 by the time I graduate, if I graduate as planned, of course. Given the way I’ve been run-around with financial aid, I’m not so sure I will graduate in the spring of 2012.

A registration block on my account that I noticed last week prompted this little rant. Since I owed Loyola over $1,450, I was blocked from registering. The big problem here is in the why I owed Loyola that much money.

I am just 1.5 semesters away from receiving a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and another in psychology and I'm starting to think Loyola is taking full advantage of the knowledge that I can't just leave the university if they piss me off enough; I have way too many credits that would go to waste so I have to stick it out regardless of how terribly they treat me.

Here’s what happened when I tried to resolve the registration block issue:

Back in late March/early April, I registered for a summer class -- one that is required for two other classes that are also required (lab classes which I was going to split up between the two remaining semesters so I wouldn’t be completely bombarded with the very time consuming work involved in labs). I’ve been dealing with the sub-par communication (rather, complete lack of communication) between the financial aid office and the bursar’s office for a while now so I made sure to call both offices, a couple of times, to be certain that I had the right info regarding my total dues for summer. They had screwed up and/or slacked off on some leftover financial aid so I had to keep calling to get that taken care of before someone could give me any real amount. Once that got all straightened out (a dozen phone calls later), I was given an anticipated aid amount. When I received my e-bill from the bursar’s office, I called to verify that amount and then to verify the financial aid amount so that I could do the subtraction and pay the difference. I deducted the financial aid sum I was given by the financial aid office, subtracted it from the sum for the class from the bursar's office and paid that difference, $589. I paid this on May 19, 2011 and thought I was set for the summer term. Classes didn't start until July 5th for a 6-week session (meaning very limited time to drop if something crazy goes down, like this fantastic situation)

In mid-July, I logged into my school account to figure out what my Spring 2012 schedule would be and saw that there was a registration block! I owed $1, 471 in addition to what I had already paid for the summer semester, obviously something went very wrong! They even charged me a lovely $21 late fee (I wish I could charge them for every late financial aid assistance they provide, which is pretty much every time).

I called Loyola on July 18th and the response I got was simply infuriating. I initially called someone at the bursar’s office and was informed that this was a financial aid issue. This is kind of how it goes at LUC, you get transferred from one office to the other in a never-ending loop. From the financial assistance office I was given a somewhat unclear answer and basically told that I should be checking my Locus account more often so that I could take care of these kinds of problems before it's too late to address them. Apparently, I'm supposed to be checking 'Locus', our online account system, on a daily basis the summer... while I'm not in school. At this point, I wasn't sure if they took away the grant or the government ran out of money but the bottom line is, the aid is no longer there and now I owe the cash. When I asked Mark, the financial aid advisor, to do a conference call with me and the bursar's office, he snickered and said, "no, we're not going to do a conference call", in a sarcastic voice that insinuated I was a complete moron for even suggesting such a thing. Instead, Mark was going to email the bursar and see if they were willing to do anything for me and then he'd email me back when they responded -- whenever that may be. Had I waited for Mark to possibly get a response from the bursar, probably informing him that nothing would be done, I would be out even more money hence, I didn't think it was too crazy for me to request that we handle this in a more efficient manner but for Mark this was an asinine idea. After trying to explain to him that $1,500 wasn't pocket change for me and not getting anywhere, I asked to speak to his supervisor.

After waiting on hold for the third time (this one was 6 minutes), I was transferred to Tammy Patterson, who identified herself as the assistant director and told me that she "could help [me] out with, like, whatever [my] concerns are". I told her that my first concern was the feeling that asking Mark to do his job was a huge inconvenience and she said she would talk to him about his "attituuuuuude". When I told this woman that I don't have $1,500 extra to throw at one class, she told me to drop it. When I explained that I also don't have $400 to throw at the wind (the amount I would lose by dropping) and that this was a required class, she almost started laughing at my petty problems.

Since the 18th was the last day to drop the class and get a measly 33% credit, I reluctantly did. Tammy was completely unwilling to even try to get me a higher credit from the bursar given that this is a bit of a unique situation (although, I spoke to an alum friend who told me that this exact same situation happened to him when he was an undergrad at LUC). I'm really trying to keep sane here but I'm not totally discounting the fact that they know seniors have no choice but to suck it up and pay or waste a lot more time and money transferring to another college that won't accept all of those credits. It should also be noted that I did not receive any other bills stating that I owed anything else, not cool.

Anyway, I addressed the issue with the extra cost. I explained to Tammy that before making a payment, I had called both the bursar's office and the financial aid office so that I could figure out what the final amount would be, which ended up being a total of $589 (the amount I had promptly paid in full). From speaking to Mark, I understood that the financial aid was done for the summer -- getting more government aid was not an option anymore (which she confirmed). So I proposed dropping the class and receiving a full refund given that the only reason I'm in this mess is due to the inaccurate information I received from their office. Had it not been for my financial aid being taken away or inaccurate to begin with, I wouldn't have taken the class in the first place because I wouldn’t have been able to afford it. If I wait until fall, the cost will be significantly lower as I'll be paying one lump sum for being a full-time student instead of per credit hour as I paid in the summer. ...back on hold I went.

Tammy returned to tell me something I already knew (as she would do over and over again for another 20 minutes); she told me that this was the last day on which I could drop and receive a 33% refund. I again explained to her that I don't have $400 to throw down the drain, 33% isn't what I was looking for, and I wouldn't have dropped the class had this financial aid fiasco not occurred. She said information was sent out to students that you have to be at least half-time to receive any government funding and because I was only enrolled for 3 credit hours instead of the minimum 6, the financial aid "just sat there and not pay towards the account". Considering that I didn't get new e-bills, I was curious to know when/where/how this information was sent to me -- it makes no sense for me to ignore something like that just to screw myself over now. This has now turned into wasted time and money. Tammy's response was that during the online entrance counseling session (the one I looked over in 2007 as a freshman) it was stated that you have to be enrolled in at least 6 credit hours to receive financial aid. I asked her why the financial aid office told me I would be getting money that in reality, I wouldn't be getting, considering that they didn't read these documents 5 years ago and they deal with this everyday. She then said that, "information, like, from the government changed July 1 -- you have to be enrolled half-time ... to get the Pell" (she's a bit difficult to understand at times). My class started 4 days after this apparent change, or addition, or whatever it was and by the 18th, I was only eligible for a 33% refund -- 0% after that. I again asked why we couldn't discuss this with the bursar's office so that I could get my full refund considering that Loyola makes close to $40,000 per head whereas for me $600 will pay for 1.5 months of my rent. She then started giving me some numbers that seemed to have no basis, she said I had paid $367 at some point (I hadn't) and therefore, it would be more than $600, as if an additional $367 would break Loyola's budget. She said $1,986 was my tuition for summer and then she said it looks like I paid $148 (again, no idea where she got this number either). She kept mumbling and from what I could catch here and there it sounds like Loyola split up my payments for some reason. After 20 minutes of being on the phone with just her, she told me that for summer she was showing a balance of $1,471 -- the amount I apparently currently owe. ...right, I know, that's why I'm calling!

She then asked if I'd registered for fall yet and I told her that I had. (silence, again -- she often just goes silent without any indication that she would need me to hold. Not a big deal but really? This is the worst phone etiquette I've ever encountered) After the silence, I thought we might actually be getting somewhere. She came back and said, "ok, so, I mean, I can cancel that Pell off for the showing up for summer cause it hasn't been disbursed". Huh? How does this help me? She is going to cancel my financial aid Pell grant award so it won't show up in my Locus account. For some reason, this woman thought that taking away my $1375 Pell grant so that I could no longer see it in Locus would remedy this situation. I guess since they weren't going to give that money to me anyway, she thought I'd be happier if I just couldn't see it. Well that makes everything better. Thanks! Holding on to the belief that this woman had some idea of what was going on in the world, I asked her what happens after she takes the Pell grant away; does it change my balance in any way? She said that after she takes it away, I’d just owe $1471. We have now wasted about half an hour discussing something that was a known fact before she even opened her mouth. Mark already told me this and then she told me as well, repeatedly.

I told her that I don't understand the point of this as I am aware that I owe $1471, that's the whole reason for this never-ending phone call. She replied with, "well, the situation is you have to come up with the $1471" and then recommended that I take out an additional loan to the one I'd already be taking in the fall so that I could pay off the $1471. Now, I had been very calm this entire time but at this point, my patience started to seriously nosedive. Once again, I tried to explain to this woman that the problem is that I am now being forced to pay money I don't have for something I never anticipated paying since they had told me I would be getting financial aid! I was not given any inkling of doubt about this aid; no one ever said anything about having to be half-time, nothing! She told me that as it stood at that moment, there really isn't anything they could do. She said I'm already enrolled, I'm already taking it and..."like, I don't know" (I guess she thought that was a coherent and appropriate statement). Again, I explained that had I known any of this, I would never have taken the class which is why I am asking that someone call the bursar's office, tell them the situation, and see if we can do anything to get me a bigger refund. Her response, of course, was that I could get the 33% refund. When I told her that I don't want the 33% refund and that I don't understand why we can't try to figure out a way for me to get a full refund or at least something higher than 33%, she laughed and said that she was just going off what I'm saying, that I would drop the class. I explained to her what I thought was blatantly clear, I don't see another choice.

Just to make this clear, I explained it again: my two choices as I see them are 1) I finish the class and somehow come up with the $1471 or, 2) I drop the class and take it in the fall. Her exasperated reply was, "so finish the class"; she said I was going to owe the $1471 regardless. Huh? Why? She then agreed that it's a waste of money to drop the class since I would need to take it to graduate, so, "why not just finish the class?" I explained to her something she should already know, if I take the class in the fall, it wouldn't cost me an extra $1500 because the tuition is the same as long as you are a full-time student, which I would be, regardless of whether I take the five classes I was planning on or an additional one.

She then said she was trying to see this issue the way I'm seeing it but, apparently, this didn't make sense to her. So I explained again and she said that she doesn't know who I spoke with that told me I would be able to get financial aid being less than half-time. (Someone at the financial aid office, back in late March/early April!) She then told me that she "understands my frustration" - ha! What a joke. She then explained to me why I didn't get the Pell grant, for the 100th time -- are you getting irritated as well now?

I told her that although $1500 might not be a whole lot of money to her, it sure as hell is to me. Not only do I not have access to the $1500, throwing just $400 into thin air is just a bit on the painful side for me at this point in my life -- that's a lot of money for a broke college kid! It's especially uncool since this could have been prevented if someone would just have taken a second to tell me! Maybe if they weren't so busy being pissed off because they are required to do their job like everyone else in the world, this wouldn't have happened. If they weren’t constantly passing students off from one office to the other, as it's apparently impossible for them to just figure out one sum that they can all agree on, this could be prevented. When something goes wrong, the offices take zero responsibility. I mean, who doesn't remember every single word of their entrance loan counseling from 5 years ago? I am clearly just totally irresponsible and need to shut up and pay. Unlike Loyola, an institution/corporation that has not stopped raising tuition for more than one semester since I started in 2007, I am not a millionaire -- in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they were way above the millions. Is it really this much of a burden for them to give me back my $589? Or, at the very least, try?

She again told me she does understand my frustrations (no, she doesn't) but per federal regulations, they can't give me the Pell grant. I know! I never asked for the Pell grant for that very reason. I told her I understand this, that's why I'm dropping the class. She then said that, "per regulations, it's a 33% refund" -- I didn't know Loyola had such stringent regulations!

I told her that if they can't provide students with accurate information regarding their balances, they should probably ease up on their "regulations". She got pissed now and asked me who I spoke to a few months ago which, in turn, pissed me off. I asked her if she kept records of every person she spoke to in April and she said, with great enthusiasm, that she does. Am I the only person who doesn't keep a record of every single conversation I've ever had and for an indefinite amount of time?! I asked if she has written down every single person that she has spoken to from every single company and she said, "yes, I take care of my business!" Well, I guess if I were her, I would too. She clearly thinks that everyone behaves the way she does and in that case, I can see why one would write down every single word of every single conversation and hang on to it until the day that they are buried with that information. She then told me that per federal regulations, she couldn’t make an exception for me. Apparently, Loyola is no longer a private institution and the Federal government tells them exactly what they can do with their money. Either that, or, she is back to talking about the Pell grant which I thought we had already agreed I would not be getting under any circumstance. I was fine with this. She then told me that, "that's the way it is". Well, thank you very much!

I told her that I have gotten myself into an enormous amount of debt on top of the tens of thousands that I've paid in cash to attend Loyola and that I am very disappointed in her complete lack of regard for my circumstance. She then told me that she is trying to tell me my options but I'm not trying to listen. Apparently, this miracle option that I was not listening to was to take out additional loans in the fall to cover the balance. Hello, is she aware of some loans that don't require repayment? If this is the case, I'd like to open up some credit cards that have such policies.

At this point, I told her that I was tired of hearing her tell me the same thing over and over again and not listening to a word I said so I would take it up with someone else. She then told me that I can call the director and I can call whomever I need to call. She then tried, one last time, to tell me that I was misinterpreting what she was saying so I went over everything with her again, very slowly, step by step, until she agreed that I did, in fact, know of the same two options that she did and had not misinterpreted anything. This apparently angered her quite a bit because she mustered the most sarcastic tone she could and said, "so why don't you send an email to the director and ask for your six hundred dollars then...why don't you do that...maybe that'll be a great option for you, that's your third option."

Lastly, I asked her if they recorded these phone calls, she said, "um, I don't know but they probably should start recording them". I expressed my agreement with that statement and she continued, sarcastically of course, to say, "yea, that'll be a great idea, I should recommend that to the director".

Loyola needs to stop tearing down old building to build new glass ones and instead get their financial offices in order. I’d say that firing Tammy is a good start. I’m tired of paying tens-of-thousands of dollars to attend a university that is constantly under construction and hiking up my tuition to continue that never-ending construction while graduate students teach required 300-level courses at skyrocketing prices. In 2007, I was ecstatic about my admission to Loyola. Today, I am embarrassed to have this be my future alma mater.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Flying with Spirit? Get ready for some fun fees!

I saw an amazing deal for RT airfare to New York today and quickly headed over to to purchase two tickets. I picked the flight times at the dirt cheap price of $31 one-way and continued on to check out when I was met with some glorious fees that added $75 (that's a whole extra ticket!!) to my balance. If this was some Illinois sales tax type of deal I probably wouldn't have been quite so flabbergasted, pissed but not surprised; Chicagoans are used to paying outrageous taxes and fees for absolutely no good reason (like the $100 we pay for the City sticker, plus the $25 for the parking permit which allows us to park on the roads that we pay taxes to maintain -- limited roads, plus $100 for a license plate sticker for Annually, by the way. :-/) but these fees were way more creative than that. Here's the breakdown:

Passenger Facility Fee: $18
According to the Spirit website, "the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) Program allows the collection of PFC fees up to $4.50 for every enplaned customer at commercial airports controlled by public agencies. Airports use these fees to fund FAA-approved projects that enhance safety, security, or capacity; reduce noise; or increase air carrier competition."

Great! Just what I've always wanted; contributing to the ridiculous security binge we've been on ever since 9/11, $18 at a time.

Passenger Usage Fee: $32
This one definitely takes the cake, it's my all-time favorite.
Spirit's website doesn't really provide much detail on this one but you can't really blame them -- if I were scamming the U.S. to this extent, I would try to keep it under wraps too.

"Travel within the United States - Fee of $8.00 per one way travel per traveling customer applies to all reservations excluding bookings created directly at Spirit Airlines’ airport locations.

International Flights (including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) - Fee of $13.00 per one way travel per traveling customer applies to all international reservations excluding bookings created directly at Spirit Airlines’ airport locations as well as flights originating in or departing from airports in Colombia or Panama."

Basically, unless you go directly to Spirit Airlines's airport location to purchase your ticket, you'll be paying $32 for the luxury of using your own printer's ink. Spirit charges you because they are upset about the money they're saving on paper and ink!

Segment Fee:

This one is pretty boring. "Commercial operators are required to collect a tax on air transportation for each flight that begins and ends in the United States. A segment tax of $3.50 per U.S. domestic flight segment. A segment is a single takeoff and a single landing."

Lastly, the one that initially got my attention because I love all of the new groping policies that have been instituted at airlines:

September 11th Security Fee:

For the low cost of only $10, I can now ensure that all TSA virtual strip search equipment is maintained properly. What about those of us who opt out of the cancer machine? Am I paying to be groped? yes, yes, yes!!

They call it something else on their site, "Passenger Civil Security Fee" but it's the same crap either way. I'm paying $10 extra to guarantee that I either get virtually stripped searched with a possible side of harmful radiation (excuse me, "safe" doses of radiation) or, I can get groped by some sweaty TSA agent.

"A September 11th Security Fee of $2.50 is charged for each one-way flight segment to fund screeners, equipment, and other costs of the Transportation Security Administration."

So thank you, Spirit Airlines, for providing me with all of these forced opportunities to pay a bunch of BS fees for a bunch of BS services. I quickly steered away from their booking page. Although $214 is still a good deal for two RT tickets to NY, it's not worth supporting Spirit's notion that it's a-okay to screw people over in this fashion.

Friday, May 20, 2011

One more for the fellow night owls fighting for justice...

We have a naive idea of what "equality" is and it has some dangerous consequences. Pure vengence usually doesn't work.

Lady Justice’s blindfold and scale epitomize some of the core values of American culture, fairness and equality for all. However, in the effort to provide such unbiased justice, many people who pass through the criminal justice system receive the opposite. When considering equality, it is prudent to understand that not every criminal has the same motivations and reasons behind his/her behavior. Although blanket uniformity looks like the most just way to carry out sentencing when only the legal aspects of the case are contemplated, it is not so cut and dry when cases are considered more thoroughly. Giving the majority of the power to the legislators, who only look at the theoretical fundamentals of offenses, instead of the judges and prosecutors, who are in constant daily contact with offenders, is nonsensical. The legislature only needs to present in the sentencing process in terms of providing advisory guidelines for judges; the ultimate discretionary authority needs to be in the hands of those people who deal with crime on the case-level, mainly judges and attorneys.

Equal justice is a nice hypothetical idea: if you commit crime A, you get corresponding punishment A. It does not provide much room for disparity or discrimination and thus, it is the epitome of fairness; however, not taking the unique circumstances of specific cases into consideration during sentencing harms society as a whole when the same offenders continue to be sentenced yet not actually treated and because of this, they continue to recidivate. The more complex system of individual justice, which recognizes the many facets that influence offenders’ behaviors, allows for a more effective justice system – one that actually has a much better chance of putting a dent in the crime rate. It does not merely warehouse every person who might be a threat to the public; instead, it attempts to “fix” offenders so that they can be a productive part of society. The government, an entity that is not involved in the daily operations of the criminal justice system, forcing judges to abide by their ideas on the proper way to sentence should be rejected by the public and replaced by a system in which judges, the people who are closer to the immediate community, crime, and offenders, make the discretionary decisions. Even though legislators are the representatives of the people and their values, how often and how many people actively vote on criminal laws and statutes? Of those who do vote, how many are actually well educated on the issues for which they are casting their ballots? Does it make sense that the people who are the furthest removed from the criminal law should be the same people who make the most profound decisions for its livelihood? Or, does it make more sense that the members of the court system, who are intimately acquainted with the community, their regional views on crime, and the offenders themselves, make the decisions on how to prosecute and sentence individuals? Asking a public that is either not at all or very casually educated about the intricacies of the criminal justice system to help create the guidelines that judges are then forced to follow is just as sensible as asking the public what the best treatment for lung cancer would be, instead of asking an oncologist, perhaps. If the public doesn’t have that much say-so, then legislators, a very small group of people who are not representative of the overall population, are making very important decisions for people they are not really representing and that, might be more disturbing than the former. Putting diagnoses and sentencing into the hands of qualified professionals who are directly involved in a particular field is the only logical solution and that solution is individual justice.

Since there are a million different examples of how the same type of crime could be vastly different depending on its context, judges should consider legally relevant factors of specific cases prior to determining sentences. As Kevin Reitz put it, legislature is not able to define a “perfect matrix of laws to govern every particular of life” and because of this, they should not be able to set determinate sentencing rules (Reitz, 401). Without determinate sentencing statutes, judges have the freedom to sentence people in a way that is most appropriate to their unique circumstances. If an offender has a mental illness that could likely be contributing to his/her criminal behavior, a judge can sentence them to a psychiatric hospital instead of a jail that can lead to an exacerbation of the illness. If an offender is addicted to drugs, a judge can sentence them to treatment where medical professionals can monitor them. There are also other characteristics that need to be examined; such as, the number of charges, their nature (i.e., violent, was a weapon used, etc.), prior criminal record, current criminal status (have they violated probation?), gang affiliation, and possibly others based on the judge’s assessment. The offender, not just the crime, should be the focus of the sentencing, considering that without an offender, there would not be a crime. The current emphasis on restitution is austerely avenging a crime and the lack of offender focus has led to a cycle of recidivism. At the very least, allowing judges to assess an offender’s needs and sanctioning accordingly can have a positive effect on recidivism; at the very worst, the situation will remain as it is and no harm will be done.

An additional dilemma is that statutes like mandatory sentencing take away the discretionary influence of judges, who are elected or appointed based on their accomplishments and competence, and as an alternative, give most of it to prosecutors, who are some of the most inexperienced and unregulated players in the criminal justice system: “they are often at an early stage in their careers, their decisions are made behind closed doors and are neither explained on the record nor subject to review. Judges, by and large, are neutral to case outcomes, are selected for high levels of professional attainment, are required to work in open court and explain their decisions on the record, and can be second-guessed by their appellate colleagues” (Reitz, 403). Prosecutors, as Supreme Court Justice Jackson noted in 1940, “[have] more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America”; legislature does not need to compound that lofty prosecutorial control (Spohn, 63). It is irresponsible to permit prosecutors the absolute ability to circumvent legislative guidelines by choosing whether or not to charge an offender, what to charge them with, and whether or not to offer a plea bargain without ever having anyone review their decisions while judges have to abide by numerous restrictions on just one aspect of the process, sentencing – which is something that prosecutors can advise upon. As Reitz points out, “we should prefer a system in which judicial sentencing discretion is not subservient to prosecutorial discretion” (Reitz, 403). Given all of the avenues for abuse, it should be clear that the constraints need to be placed far more strictly on prosecutors and eased off of judges and, since legislators are not the best discretionary authority for the criminal justice system, their restraint on sentencing should be less prevalent overall. Legislators should however, address the common concern that case-level parties could sentence based on discriminatory factors if they are given room for discretion and there must be statutes to correct for that behavior.

As one of Reitz’s hypotheses state, “the considerations of visibility, professionalization, accountability, and systemic responsibility should be the relevant concerns” (Reitz, 403). In the judicial system, some of those checks and balances are already in place for certain parties. In view of the fact that cases are tried in public, a judge’s work is always on display and able to be scrutinized by the fellow court community and the civilians who pass through the system. Prosecutorial staff, on the other hand, conducts much of its business behind closed doors where it cannot be scrutinized. Since it is not possible for prosecutors to make the entirety of their work public, there should be at least one unbiased party present during all negotiations with offenders. They should be aware of the circumstances of the case and can report to an organization like the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) in Illinois if they believe a prosecutor is abusing their power in any way. In addition to that, prosecutors should be required to write a brief review of their charging decisions, plea-bargaining, and so on. It may be inconvenient and more time-consuming but, considering the outstanding impact on human lives, it is a necessity. In all other aspects of a prosecutor’s work, organizations like the ARDC should continue to be present and more strongly enforce their guidelines for principled behavior. Those who work within the court system should be made well aware of their ethical responsibility to report (anonymously if they choose) any misconduct by attorneys, whether it be discrimination against an offender or coming to work intoxicated. Judges, who are already held to a higher standard than lawyers, should be accountable to a similar organization where both the public and the court community can report any problems that are guaranteed to be addressed by the organization as long as they have merit. If a judge is taking legally irrelevant factors into account when determining whether to sentence and how harshly to sentence, they will eventually form a pattern of behavior that can be addressed by the committee and then either fixed or punished. The legislature can strictly impose sanctions upon judges and lawyers who are found guilty by the committees for not upholding the law. If judges and lawyers know that the consequences for illegitimate behavior can be as high as losing their license or imprisonment, they are likely to hold themselves even more responsible than they currently do; and, those who do not abide by the rules will be penalized accordingly.

Using the above outlined system of individual justice gives the public the best of all worlds. Prosecutors will no longer be so powerful that they can do as they please in the pre-sentencing stage and judges will be able to impose individual sentences that are more applicable to the offenders needs and thus, are more likely to have a positive impact on the offender and the public.