Justice System Should Help, Not Just Punish | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Justice System Should Help, Not Just Punish

Last summer, a SWAT team descended on the home of a man named Cornealious "Mike" Anderson in a quiet suburb of St. Louis, Mo., and took him to jail.

The crime the man was accused of had taken place 13 years earlier.

The overwhelming force used against Anderson is typically reserved for people who orchestrate the kinds of elaborate prison breaks that we see on television.

But Anderson, now 37, was no escapee; he had walked free for more than a decade because of a clerical error.

In that time, Anderson started a family and became a carpenter, a business that was on record with the secretary of state's office. None of that mattered; he was thrown in prison to immediately to start serving his sentence. There he sat for more than eight months until the Riverfront Times, an alternative newsweekly in St. Louis, broke his story, and it went viral.

Public pressure eventually led to Anderson's release in early May. A judge awarded Anderson, a father of four, credit for the 4,794 days he was not in prison custody after his 2000 conviction; in other words, Anderson was forgiven.

"You've been a good father. You've been a good husband. You've been a good tax-paying citizen," the judge told Anderson before releasing him.

Larry David McLaurin and Markuieze Bennett also should not have been incarcerated.

McLaurin, 56, featured in this week's cover story, was an Army veteran whose struggles with mental illness may have put him in contact with law enforcement more often than it put him in touch with health-care professionals.

Bennett, 21, also had a pretty good shot at going home. Accused of armed robbery, Bennett had sworn affidavits from witnesses stating that he was hanging out with friends when the robbery he was accused of committing took place.

Due to a tragic confluence of a lumbering criminal-justice system that gives prosecutors preference over defendants and ignores the sometimes obvious mental health challenges of the people it locks up, the lives of Larry David McLaurin and Markuieze Bennett ended in the Raymond Detention Center.

One has to wonder how different Mike Anderson's life would have turned out had a technical snafu kept him out of prison. Would he have still been able to start a family and his own business? Could he have avoided becoming a physically and psychologically broken man?

Or could he have met a fate similar to that of Larry David McLaurin and Markuieze Bennett? Conversely, what if we had a criminal justice system that recognized McLaurin's mental illness as one of the reasons for his alleged crime or that repeatedly ignored Bennett's pleas of innocence? (The defense attorneys who represented Bennett say his trial date was pushed back twice).

If we had that kind of system, maybe those men, like Anderson, could have someday also been a good fathers, husbands and taxpayers.

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