The mills of justice

Though the mills of God grind slowly; Yet they grind exceeding small;
Though with patience He stands waiting, With exactness grinds He all

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "Retribution," 1846

Anyone who deals with the criminal justice system knows that it is not just. Efforts at repairing it are slow and pretty ineffectual. Instead of grinding out the imperfections, boulders of error and willful malice slide right on through. Here's an update.

Congress is stuck on a demand that the person must know an act is unlawful in order to be found guilty. This stipulation would exonerate much corporate malfeasance. Politico has a full analysis and strategy for threading this needle and moving along the changes in sentence lengths for non-violent offenders.

Meanwhile, some reform is moving along, state by state. But the headlines are misleading. Missouri, for example, passed a bill allowing expungement of some convictions at a fee of $500. But the relief is inaccessible for those with multiple felony convictions for drug possession and petty theft committed to support their addiction. Another example is that nobody has addressed states' requirements that released inmates repay the state for the costs of their incarceration and the fact that most states require monthly fees during probation.

The Supreme Court is considering a fine point regarding the tight limits on inmates' rights to sue prisons -- but even if a plaintiff is successful, the ruling will be so narrow as to provide almost no relief for grievous suffering.

I receive a couple of petitions a week calling for clemency. After I sign them, I post them on a Facebook page, Clemency Sabbath. My hope has been that leaders of faith communities would preach on clemency.

The "mills of justice" quote goes back to Plutarch, according to Wikipedia, but I think of Jesus telling us to remove the beam in our own eye (Matthew 7: 3-5) and warning us that if we cause these little ones to stumble, we should be cast into the sea with millstones around our necks. (Matthew 18:6).

I do find comfort in Matthew.

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