As part of Oak Meadow’s pilot program using Google Apps™ to facilitate online classroom discussions and collaboration, K-8 Program Director Apple Gifford initiated a recent discussion, sparked by an 8th grade Civics assignment regarding the 8th Amendment. An excerpt of this discussion thread shows how online writing can enrich and extend the learning experience for students living thousands of miles apart.
Teacher: It seems that most of you believe that suspected criminals should be held in jail until it is proven that they are innocent. Interestingly, I feel quite differently. The law states that people should not be held in jail unless it can be proven that they have committed a crime. …It seems that innocent people should have rights and that our legal system should be very careful to avoid infringing on those rights. Do you think you can convince me otherwise?
RE: I think it is wrong to allow someone accused of a crime to post bail! Money should not have a place in the legal system because of the opportunity for corruption it offers!
ZL: I believe that suspect criminals should definitely not be released on bail before their trial... anyone who has committed a crime has essentially given up all their rights as citizens… the probability of being merely mistaken for a criminal is very small, and in the large scheme of things, taking away that unlucky person’s rights is terrible for the person, but beneficial for the society at large. …If a suspected criminal is released on bail until the trial there are many things that could occur including further committed crimes, persuasion of the judge or jury, and run away to a different place or country, never showing up for the trial.
RE: Another problem with allowing suspects free is that those with financial benefits have a large advantage, and those are usually the ones that go unpunished. For instance how could a homeless man with no family, accused of murder get bail? He couldn’t, but a rich man accused of the same crime would be able to pay the fine. This makes it easier for the rich man to prepare his defense than it is for the homeless man… the only way to give the homeless man the same chance as the rich man is to deny them both bail!
ZL: … one can imagine how bribes and corruption can play a role in getting certain (affluent) people out of jail but not others.
TEACHER: Martin Luther King was held in jail after he was arrested for civil disobedience. He couldn’t afford his bail, but a famous singer, Harry Belafonte, bailed him and the other people who had been arrested out of jail until they could stand trial. Do you think that it makes sense to keep people like MLK in jail or is your way of thinking reserved for people accused of committing violent crimes?
CA: Why should people stay in jail if they are not even guilty? People should not stay in jail before their trial. If they are in jail, who is going to take care of their children and house?
RE: What if they are guilty and they commit another crime? Only people with the funds can be released on bail. Doesn’t this make things unequal? … although it may be unfair for the innocent, isn’t it better to protect the common good instead of a small minority? I also think that it is too hard to distinguish between those that should be kept in jail and those that shouldn’t
DU: Yes, but it could be based on a % of someone’s wealth so that it would be fair to all of the classes.
CA: …everyone should have the opportunity to be released on bail. Unless they are a dangerous criminal or they are a flight risk. RE: How do you decide what a “dangerous criminal” or one who is a “flight risk” is? Who decides? And how are they kept from corruption?
CA: The judge will decide if the criminal is dangerous.
ZL: The judge is human and might make mistakes. He or she could also be bribed. … sometimes doing something for the common good means that a few people might have to give up their freedom unfairly or suffer... it is all about the benefit and cost analysis.
CA: Why should a few rotten people make everyone else suffer?
RE: The masses should not be put at risk from released criminals when the safety of all could be protected by putting possible offenders of all crimes in jail… It seems to me that the greater good must be protected… but I agree that it could be dangerous for the government to not trust the citizens. …I do think “innocent until proven guilty” is a good thing.
ZL: In principle I agree with the statement that people should be innocent until proven guilty. But just like a lot of great ideas (e.g. democracy), for it to work everyone must do his or her best, make good choices, and generally participate in society. Only then this principle can really be applied, because if someone is really innocent, the community will know about it and support this person. On the other hand, if someone is guilty, citizens will step in and present evidence for it quickly and having the person in prison will make sense. Until the point (if it ever comes?) when the majority of people are conscientious citizens, we are stuck with an imperfect system which makes mistakes for both the innocent (probably more often) and the guilty (less often).