Book Review: No Matter How Loud I Shout by Edward Humes
The American justice system has faced a litany of criticisms for its overemphasis of punishment as a mean of deterring crime. This has been done at the expense of truly rehabilitating convicted offenders. As a consequence, the justice system, especially the department that deals with juvenile offenders, is clogged with numerous cases, overworked public offenders, and high recidivism rates. A clogged justice system marked by overworked public offenders, inadequate financial support, and a punishment-oriented approach to law and order is the recipe for miscarriage of justice that is a common phenomenon within the American juvenile correction department. It is these inadequacies that Pulitzer award-winner journalist, Edward Humes, sought to highlight in his book: No Matter How Loud I Shout: A Year in the Life of Juvenile Court.
In his book, Humes highlights the outcome of his year-long investigative and research work into the American juvenile justice and correctional system with Inglewood division in Los Angeles County, California, as a sample. The author gives a blow-by-blow account of the events that unfolded during his time in Los Angeles County. Humes not only wandered through the County’s juvenile justice and correctional system; he actively participated in the rehabilitation of some of the offenders who were serving time for various crimes. The journalist also observed the operations of other parties involved in the system including private attorneys, judges, and district attorneys. His research also saw him observe the daily routines of public offenders and probation officers while engaging the juvenile delinquents and their parents and loved ones. Humes’ multifaceted approach to the issue also saw him observe and interact with the victims of these juveniles and their parents and loved ones.
Through the writing classes he was teaching the juveniles, Humes had the chance to observe firsthand how the youngsters had been victimized by a system that treated them like adult offenders despite being barely teenagers. His detailed focus highlights the trauma of victimization by not only the correctional system but also the society at large. Consequently, such victimization has robbed the youngsters of their social connections and conscience, driving them into committing even more violent crimes. Despite the disarray in the system, Humes also reports on success stories on former delinquents who have successfully made the transition into becoming productive and law-abiding citizens through an integrated rehabilitation approach. He also reports on public officials such as judges, probation officers, and public offenders who are trying their level best to make a positive impact. Edward Humes’ profound and passionate reporting of the multiple systemic failures within the Los Angeles juvenile justice and correctional system is not only disturbing by also eye-opening.
Humes’ book is a rebuke of a justice and social system that is punishment-oriented. Such a system metes up disproportionate harsh punishments to juvenile delinquents without necessarily tackling the cause of their problems. Consequently, Los Angeles County like many other counties across the country, has had to deal with an explosion of juvenile delinquency. Without establishing and tackling the cause of the tendency to violate laws, juveniles released from correctional facilities become repeat offenders for even worse crimes. Humes spent time teaching writing at Central Juvenile Hall. This gave him firsthand experience of the failings of such a system. His class was comprised of juveniles who had committed some of the worst offenses. However, their individual stories painted a mosaic of a correction system that was at variance with the rehabilitation needs of the juveniles. The stories paint a disturbing portrait of a failing system that requires urgent efforts to arrest its rapid and dangerous slide into oblivion.
The students’ harrowing stories show a disturbing trend where legal technicalities have seen numerous felons who have committed serious crimes set free. However, soft-case felons have found themselves in the crosshairs of the dysfunctional justice system. They are not only handed harsher sentences but also find themselves serving their sentences in adult correctional facilities despite their young age. Humes notes that such cases are common in the county and American juvenile justice system because of overworked public defenders. With hundreds of cases to handle, some of these public defenders barely have the time to prepare a case properly. While in some cases it may be intentional, some of the lawyers are bogged down by numerous cases. This has seen some making the career decision to transition into handling adult cases.
Humes feels that the current war theory being used in the juvenile justice system is falling short of the standards set by the previous system. Unlike the current contemporary justice system, the old justice and correctional system was focused on the individual offender with the view of pinpointing and tackling the cause of their offending behavior. He believes that such a narrow focus is evidenced by the lack of adequate probation officers and public defenders. Consequently, probation officers such as Sharon Stegall are overwhelmed by the dozens of juvenile delinquents they have to monitor.
By exploring the burden faced by both the public attorneys and public defenders, Humes seeks to extrapolate his war theory analogy with the view of highlighting the perversity of the problem. Both professionals, even as they slug it out in the courtroom, have to contend with a huge caseload. Paradoxically, it is a fair contest. It is such an objective approach to every issue that he highlights that makes Humes an objective writer. Despite being a highly emotive and controversial issue, Humes has managed to wade through the opinions and avoided the temptation of subjectivity. His research is probing and insightful yet disturbingly revealing. It lays bare the frailties of a system that has missed the mark when it comes to delivering its core objective: rehabilitation and correction of juveniles. It is a conclusion reached after observing and working in the system with incarcerated and rehabilitated juveniles, judges, public attorneys and defenders, and probation officers. Their testimonies create a frightening mosaic portrait of a system that is falling apart. It is a system that is drowning (Humes 21).
Edward Humes has lived up to the expectations of investigative journalism. His book aptly fits within the realms of exposure. However, his scintillating exposure was done with the full knowledge of the authorities in Los Angeles County following the issuance of a court order. His ideas are well-thought and grounded in pieces of evidence that can be accessed by the general public. He established his reputation throughout the book by providing well-corroborated evidence and testimonies. His multifaceted observation saw him talk to a wide array of individuals involved in the system. The one common picture they painted was that of a failing system marked by inadequate financing and hundreds of unresolved cases, with more streaming in, due to understaffing.
Humes, Edward. No Matter How Loud I Shout: A Year in the Life of Juvenile Court. New York City, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1997.