To the Editor:
According to the December 19, 2011 St. Clair County Board Meeting minutes, the county jail averaged a daily population of 473 inmates for that year. There were also 205 juveniles (19 females and 186 males) imprisoned at the Juvenile Home. On any given day, we are talking about 678 people incarcerated in county jails with many others languishing in state and federal prisons.
Yet, most of these prisoners have never once read the law with which they were or are being charged prior to getting handcuffed and/or incarcerated. How can we expect people to comply with the rules or laws when we have done nothing to ensure that they know and understand them?
In most impoverished urban communities like East St. Louis or the North Side of St. Louis, few of the residents’ ancestors had the benefit of Ellis Island or other forms of citizen education, even as high school or college graduate. Currently, one would have to go to law school to get even a basic understanding of how courts and law actually work.
How is it exactly that we can fail to provide basic legal education while proclaiming at the same time that ignorance is no defense against the law? In the end, we spend billions in Illinois on education to produce inmates instead of citizens.
Please contact your local education officials and state legislators to demand that basic legal education is provided now for our students as early as the 6th grade.
Matt Hawkins, President
Civic Alliance - East St. Louis