To Punish & Protect: A DA's Fight Against a System That Coddles Criminals
Richard Pryor has a concert film --- I forget which one --- where he relates going into a prison with Gene Wilder to do some background for a movie project. Pryor, in spite of (and, yes, occasionally because of) his tendency to be extremely crude, can be wildly funny, and he is extremely funny discussing his prison experiences, as he describes some of the inmates, shaking his head up and down, and exhorting his audience with the chant, "We need BIGGER prisons! We need BIGGER PRISONS!" The audience is howling because everyone knows exactly what he means. If you don't, check out the "St. Anger" video by Metallic, which was filmed at San Quentin. Not all of the incarcerated resemble Scott Peterson, or O.J. Simpson, or the defendants on The Practice. The Shield does a pretty good job, and Oz does an even better one, but even these shows clean 'em up a bit. They call them "bad guys" for a reason.
Jeanine Pirro is the District Attorney for Westchester County in New York. It is Pirro's job, and her passion, to get the bad guys off the street and, if justice so requires, to do so permanently. TO PUNISH AND PROTECT is not so much a treatise regarding what Pirro does or how she does it, as it is an illustration of why she does it. The short answer is that she does it for the victims, which is the best possible reason.
Pirro is a passionate advocate for the victim. She is working within a system in which, in her words, the rights of the Defendant are sacrosanct and the rights of the victim are marginalized. Pirro demonstrates more than a canny knowledge of the justice system in TO PUNISH AND PROTECT. She notes that our system of justice is predicated on the concept that the system will exact justice on behalf of the victim. In Pirro's view, when a victim is ignored, or a criminal is unpunished, our society further erodes. Pirro's job --- her passion --- is to see that justice is obtained on behalf of those to whom violence has been done.
TO PUNISH AND PROTECT is not a literary wall of respect. Pirro does not focus exclusively on her triumphs, but rather includes a number of instances in which the system failed, and therefore failed the victim. Pirro provides examples of how violent crimes visited upon a victim have a ripple effect that extends far beyond the immediate dichotomy of the criminal and victim. This is particularly true of crimes involving child abuse, sexual abuse, and spousal abuse. Pirro is especially passionate with respect to the problem of underage drinking, a topic that she deals with in a chapter appropriately titled "A Nod and a Wink." She also expounds at some length upon the topic of so-called "hate crimes." There's room for disagreement here --- any crime of violence is inherently a "hate crime" --- but Pirro's argument in favor of the classification, and prosecution, of such acts is as reasoned as one is likely to encounter. TO PUNISH AND PROTECT also contains several appendices with topics such as crime prevention programs, a guide for parents concerning Internet safety, and a resource guide for victims.
TO PUNISH AND PROTECT is not a lengthy work, but it is a weighty one, from a soldier on the front lines of a battle that never ends. While the subject matter is unpleasant, this is a work that needs to be read, and pondered, by everyone.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 27, 2004