Essays and Theories

 America's Criminal Justice System and the Resource Alignments:
An Evolutionary Perspective

(Formally titled:
Politics2000: America's Criminal Justice System and the Resource Alignments:
An Evolutionary Perspective)

William A. Spriggs
July 28, 1999

Before you begin reading this essay, I must strongly insist that you read my Evolutionary Snippet: The Littleton Shootings: An Evolutionary Perspective.  You may click here to take you to this essay. This will assist you greatly in understanding my use of the resource alignments found in this particular essay. In the Littleton essay, I used the Columbine High School as a setting with group behavioral patterns of cliques and outcasts as a backdrop for our society as a whole. This is not all that surprising because since the Littleton shootings, in the back water electronic bulletin boards consisting of members from the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, interest has been raised by some of my colleagues that high schools represent controlled environments which could approximate the hunter-gatherer clans of our primal ancestors in a social context but that more study is needed to establish that assumption. Of particular interest, consensus has been formed that the larger the school, the greater the density and diversity of clans (cliques), and vice versa. The basics are there; high schools are filled with both females and males of approximately the same young age; born with the software of thousands of years of evolution flowing through their veins and bursting forth with enthusiasms and vehement emotions; all products of genetic heritage and molded by the culture of a local environment. The average age of high schoolers today roughly represents -- perhaps a bit on the younger side -- the age of our ancient Homo sapiens in hunter-gatherer groups where they were most likely at their peak of reproduction, hunting, mating, and social interactions; which includes war between male members from opposing clans which initially battled for resources. What may vary the behaviors in our present time from school to school is the attention or non-attention of school authorities to disciplinarian measures and cultural circumstances surrounding the school area. In this essay on Resource Alignments and the American justice system, there can be no doubts that the system is split into two resource directions; one for those with financial resources and one for those without financial resources. I speculated that these two polarities paid a role in the Littleton violence, and I have used two elements from the Littleton essay: The Resource Retention Rule, and the Resource Retention Alliances as they apply to the American Judicial System.

In late September of 1998, a 54 year-old male confessed to the Aspen Police and the Pitkin County Sheriff's Department in Aspen Colorado that he had misappropriated $6 million in business funds. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was called into the case, but several months passed before the man was even charged with the wrong for which he confessed. In an inquiry from a reporter at The Denver Post, this male replied with a hand-written note: "I used the money involved to pay business and personal obligations and make unauthorized investments. I believe the shortfall is approximately six million dollars."

The man that made that confession was Mr. Michael R. Wise, the former executive in charge of the defunct Silverado Savings and Loan of Denver. Not until February 5th, 1999 was a criminal complaint filed against Mr. Wise, which read as follows:

On April 4th, 1999, Mr. Wise entered Federal Court and offered a guilty plea to two count of wire fraud in the theft of 8.7 million dollars from investors. The judge asked Wise, "Do you understand you will be a convicted felon?" "Yes," replied Mr. Wise, who up till that time only had a driving violation on his police record. Sentencing was scheduled for July 6, 1999. (News reports do not seem to indicate that Mr. Wise spent any time in jail since he confessed to the authorities and The Denver Post. One must assume that he was free on bond or free on his own recognizance).

When the big day arrived, U.S. District Judge Walker Miller sentenced Mr. Wise to 42 months said that Mr. Wise "borrowed" the money and would have to make restitution by repaying the borrowed money in the amount of $300 per month. At that rate, each investor would receive only $7.90 a month, and it would take 2,430 years to years to repay the entire "loan." As for the remaining assets that Mr. Wise has left after his "borrowing" spree, it has been valued at five million dollars and has been put in receivership until further notice. Also sentenced in the same case was his 23 year-old file clerk, Anne Liv Slemmons, who "stole" $110,000 and will spend 96 months in a horrible, regular prison unlike the more comfortable settings at Leavenworth that Mr. Wise will spend his 42 months (Uh....that's without early out for good behavior). To give you some street perspective on the "crime" that Mr. Wise committed, if the average crack cocaine price between buyer and seller is $50.00, then that is the equivalent of 174,000 street transactions taking place. That comes to 476 imagery transactions per day for 365 days; almost 20 per hour around the clock, non-stop.

This is not the first time that Denver has seen Mr. Wise being brought before the bar of Justice. As I mentioned previously, Wise was head of the Silverado Savings and Loan which crashed in 1988 during the nation's savings and loan crisis. Suspected of wrong-doing in the bank's failure, the government took four years to build a case against him and other officials of the bank. In that case, Wise was accused of stealing $500,000 of a $1.45 million Silverado loan. The government alleged that he used the money to remodel the kitchen and landscape his yard of his 1917 Tudor house located in the affluent Denver Country Club area.

Managing to escape conviction in that case after four years of investigation and trial by Federal investigators, Mr. Wise then drifted west and settled in the wealthy skiing village of Aspen. Although banned from banking because of his role with Silverado Banking, Mr. Wise then set up his own private lending corporation, Cornerstone Private Capital, which made investments based on investors mortgages. It seems as soon as he established himself in this glamorous and wealthy community, Mr. Wise went to work and feasted on his investors money. It has been strongly suggested that Mr. Wise admitted to his guilt because he knew that he was about to be exposed and therefore lowering any possible jail time. After all, how much money can one person steal in a small community without someone catching on?

What's going on here? Is there an evolutionary perspective being played out on the stage of human behavior? Why is it that Mr.Wise, who admitted to "using" 8.7 million dollars of his clients money received a sentence of only 42 months, when his lowly file clerk, Ms. Slemmons, who stole only 1.26% of the amount that her boss "borrowed," will spend 96 months in jail? Why is it that Mr. Wise, who "borrowed" more money than fifty crack dealers could possibly sell in one year, and then when caught and convicted, are thrown in jail and have their keys of their cells thrown out the Window? Why is there such disparity in the sentencing in these two individuals and with the general criminal population? Why was Mr. Wise handled with kid gloves?

It is my speculative theory, that seen through the lens of evolutionary perspective, what transpired is that Mr. Wise, in the eyes of the court, is a high-ranking member of the culture that controls and dominates our American society today. Giving a light sentence to Mr. Wise is an acknowledgement of unwritten social norms that special privileges are to be given, and mistakes made by these individuals minimized, in order to court favor from these people in return for a possible favor from them at some later date. It means that the judge in this case was displaying a submissive role and acknowledging Mr. Wise's superior rank, not the other way around as a judge on high staring down on a lowly street criminal. (It also symbolizes high-rank of the individual from an evolutionary perspective). It is, as I have suggested in my Littleton shootings essay, a form of resource alliance bias by the court.

At this point in our discussion, my fellow liberals tend to mistakenly further quantify Mr. Wise from a phenotype standpoint, i.e., that he is a wealthy, tall, non-fat, white male of central-European descent who once dwelled in the high social circles of the financial world; but that matters not one wit. What matters is that in our planet's long history, this variant of our species is considered dominate through a series of cascading historical events. (read Jared Diamond’s Pulitzer prize winning book, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, W.W. Norton, New York, 1997). If we lived on an imagery planet, which we will call Zeon, he could very well have been green-skinned, weighing three hundred pounds while only standing two feet tall; what matters are the social norms that Homo sapiens have created that allow favoritism to flow toward those in the higher ranks of our society. It is a bias in which members of lower lower rank behave in a manner submissive and helpful to those of the higher rank with the presumed belief that favors will be returned and they will also be "allowed" to join these vaulted inner circles and the advantages that such positions hold. This is common practice amongst various species of primates, in particular, our closest relative, the chimpanzee, whom we share 98.6% of our genetic makeup.

In his world, Mr. Wise had (and still might have) the social connections and networking of those in our American society who are fortunate to have acquired enormous wealth from alliances of similar persons. To prove that point, at one time, one of the former President's sons, Neil Bush, served on the board of the defunct Silverado. You don't get a then vice-president's son on your company's board of directors if you are a loser with no connections. My theory, which is derived from an evolutionary perspective, is that alliances have been formed that surround and protect members of this important membership. It is not a conscious, well mapped-out strategy, but merely the result of thousands of years of socialization norms being sculptured from the stored cultural memories of our past experiences and having them expressed in outward mechanisms adapted to today's circumstances. In short, we review actions in our living or learned past of similar situations and adapt actions acceptable to a particular problem today. In this particular situation concerning Mr. Wise, the judge decided that tall this rich, white, male of European descent, who was well-connected, did not commit a crime -- he committed, "a judgement error." He did not steal, "he borrowed."

The words of our founding fathers state that all men are created equal and should be treated equally under the law. But the sad truth of the matter is that because of the accumulation and division of resources, we have created two judicial systems: one for the wealthy who can afford representation before the court, and those who are poor and rely on court appointed representations. The court system is divided in their decision making by moving the scale of punishment strongly favoring those who have resources and against those that do not, while at the same time, vehemently denying that such a disproportionment of justice is occurring. The value of a person's character and actions seems wholly dependent on a person's resource accumulation and social hierarchy. I feel that this is not a healthy situation in our society as it creates a Resource Differential Intolerance Ratio in those that do not have resources at their command; this could lead to social unrest. It also breeds arrogance and disrespect for the law in those that have the advantage of such justice and could lead to their continued abuse of the system. As in biology, if there is no negative chemical response or punishment to instruct the organism, then the obvious conclusion is that the activity will continue or even be encouraged as it assist in the passing of one's genes.

Deep in the back of our minds we know the truth that our judicial system is unbalanced; those that have the advantage deny it, and those who are weak, poor, and disenfranchised express their dismay but have little clout in changing the system. It is, as Tooby and Cosmides have taught us, that we not only have evolved to be deceivers of facts to others in order to achieve whatever objective we seek, but that it can also be said with equal strength that we can become self-deceivers in order to perpetuate our genes as well. We can deny the truth to ourselves in order to create a conclusion which we feel will benefit ourselves, our immediate family, and generations of our clans into the future. Is it part of our biological heritage to deceive and to take advantage of the moment? Yes, I think so. But those genetic actions are muted by thousands of years of social interactions within the groups in which we live and must conform in order to receive maximum benefits. In our modern culture, would we consider the deception lacking moral fiber? Biology has nothing to do with morality; moral rules are humankind's rules for behavior, and morality changes to suit those who control the cultural at their particular reference point on the planet. I call that behavior at a particular location, Cultural Longitude and Latitude.

I'm going to make a very broad and sweeping statement here as seen through the lens of an evolutionary perspective that seems slightly out of kilter but makes sense when we see such a lopsided justice system dispensed in such a manner: That the American Justice system of powerful policing, unequal court decisions, and incarcerations are a substitute for the acts of violence and dominance -- and in some cases, the killing of opponents once practiced by our dominate ancestors that kept submissive opponents away from the prize of any stored, accumulated resources. This ultimate endeavor, I hazard to guess, was achieved by the acts of social Darwinism that many in the evolutionary community have great difficulty dealing with. Our ancestral genes cry out that our opponents should die, but our higher minds keep us from slipping into the morass of being uncivilized dolts. Instead, we use all excuses to incarcerate individuals that we don't want to breed; throw them in an enclosed box that sometimes is smaller than that in which we would place a primate; then turn our back on them. We preach the words that an unborn fetus should be saved at all costs, yet our motions belie our words of life's sanctity when acting against members of minorities that are evolved in even the smallest of crimes. We treat them with disrespect and care nothing of their lives; their dreams; their passions; their loves, and hatreds. We let their minds grow weak from non-use and verbally abuse them into hating themselves. It is a kinder, gentler form of death.

Before there were courts of law, there was lawlessness. Dominated by males through the physical strength of their nature, the male of our species acquired the position of being the "better" man. To the victor, went the spoils. In the environment of the ancestral rain forests that meant the hierarchical position of being Able Ape, Top Dog, Number One, Big Cheese, or Big Man On Campus. In the forest, it also meant the first to eat any food stores found, and the first to access women in estrus. Evolution is about reproductive success and the resources that one obtains. But because our ancestors lived in groups that varied in sizes from 40 to 150, our Top Dog could not expect to be in that position unless he shared. When he did share, it was with people he trusted to maintain his status (Resource Retention Rule) and the rewards that came with that position; for this, our Top Dog formed alliances. And if we fast forward to today's modern Justice system, and we pick apart the various participants, we most likely will find the exact same mechanisms interacting amongst themselves in place today; driven by genes and heavily influences by local environmental cultures -- with of course, different players, different locations, and ultimately, different cultures regulating behaviors.

In my evolutionary world of primal behaviors that are tied to modern social cultures, we try our hardest to not look at race or ethnic origins. Oh, things like skin color, hair texture, nose shapes, ethnic origins, and religious differences do exist, but what evolutionary psychologists attempt to do is go to back even further into the deep soul of humankind and seek the universalities of all of our behaviors. We seek the core elements of human behaviors at their most elementary levels and try to explain them in context of the present cultural environment.

When I began this essay, I had every intention of igniting the flames of passion with statistics of police profiling; traffic stops; consent searches; reasonable suspicion; ineffective indigent representations, differences in Crack Cocaine and Power cocaine sentencing, and Supreme Court decisions refusing to rule on racial sentencing disparities in order to move you students to action. But as a well-read and highly educated individual, you already knew that. What you may not have known nor understood is why. I want to finish with a quote from David Cole's No Equal Justice: Race and Class in the American Criminal Justice System, The New Press, New York, 1999. p. 13.

"In order to rebuild communities, we must forgo our reliance on mass incarceration -- a policy that has robbed inner-city neighborhoods of whole generations of young men. We respond to crime today in a self-defeating way, by stigmatizing criminal subcultures that encourage further criminal behavior. In doing so, we undermine one of the most important deterrents to crime: a sense of belonging to a law-abiding community."

In fact, I'm going to do something different that I have never done with any other essay. I'm going to offer this book for sale right now from , so that in a few days, you can find the citations for  of this two tier system. The book has not one word concerning evolutionary perspectives. It sticks to the book's title with just the facts. This essay just gave you the why.
Origin: July 28, 1999

No Equal Justice : Race and Class in the American Criminal Justice System
by David Cole

Hardcover - 218 pages (January 1999)
New Press; ISBN: 1565844734 ; Dimensions (in inches): 1.01 x 9.49 x 6.39
Other Editions: Paperback

The American criminal-justice system, writes Georgetown law professor David Cole, has effectively become a two-tiered system, with differing levels of regard depending on the race or class of a given citizen who comes into contact with it. The thousands of African Americans who have been confronted by law-enforcement agents nationwide for "fitting the description" of alleged perpetrators would likely concur, but, according to Cole, it isn't just the cops that operate this way; judges, prosecutors, juries, and legislators are equally complicit. If the barrage of illustrative cases he presents in No Equal Justice paints a picture of an antidemocratic society, his proposed solution--making the criminal-justice system more "community-based," strengthening the relationships between citizens to "stop" crime before it starts--holds out a promise of equality. Critics may argue that such a plan is unrealistic, but the problems he describes are all too real, and deserve the attention No Equal Justice provides. --This text refers to the hardcover edition of this title
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