So what is the big deal here anyway? Who cares if the system is fair as long as the “bad guys” are punished?
The “big deal” is that there is a “growing consensus to make reforms to the juvenile and criminal justice systems to ensure that criminal laws are enforced more fairly and efficiently. Unwarranted disparities and unduly harsh sentences undermine trust in the rule of law and offend the basic principles of fairness and justice. In an era of limited resources and diverse threats, there is a public safety imperative to devote the resources of the criminal justice system to the practices that are most successful at deterring crime and protecting the public.” President Obama fact sheet.
Before you just blow off this statement as political rhetoric, take a look at the Chicago Gun Project (CGP). See Andrew V. Papachristos, Tracey L. Meares & Jeffrey Fagan, Attention Felons: Evaluating Project Safe Neighborhoods in Chicago, 4 J. EMPIRICAL LEGAL STUD. 223, 224 (2007). The CGP examined how offenders’ perceptions of the law and social networks influence their understanding of legal authority and subsequent law-violating behavior. The findings suggest that while criminals as a whole have negative opinions of the law and legal authority, these offenders are more likely to obey the law when they believe in (a) the substance of the law, and (b) the legitimacy of legal actors, especially the police.
This means that deterrence-based law enforcement policies like creating fear based on police presence does not work. Many policies of the criminal system are based on increasing the threat and actual use of formal sanctions, such as police saturation patrols, judges being tough on crime, three-strikes laws, mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, and increased penalties for certain types of crimes. In other words, fear based forced compliance with the law does not create compliance with the law. See, Tom R. Tyler, Why People Obey the Law (Princeton University Press 2006) (people obey the law if they believe it's legitimate, not because they fear punishment). Tyler suggests that lawmakers and law enforcers would do much better to make legal systems worthy of respect than to try to instill fear of punishment. He finds that people obey law primarily because they believe in respecting legitimate authority.
It is a sad comment on society that it takes a basketball player to teach proper law enforcement policies