Dharun Ravi, a former student at Rutgers University, was convicted on Friday for hate crimes after spying on his gay roommate, Tyler Clementi, who subsequently committed suicide. Ravi faces up to 10 years in prison, according to some experts, and could even be deported to his native India.
Without question, this case is horrifying, and brings to the forefront some extremely important questions about the severity of cyberbullying and homophobia. Unfortunately, however, this case is a profound example of how this country so blatantly misunderstands justice.
As an outsider following the trial, I sadly have no reason to believe Ravi would have been so harshly charged if it were not for the incredible amount of attention this case received. This trial seems more like a handout to America's "get tough" advocates than it does a distribution of justice.
Make no mistake, the public outrage was appropriate. Clementi's case is just one of countless others throughout the nation, and represents a growing hostility towards gays and among teenagers in general.
But it is not unreasonable to believe that had Clementi not committed suicide or had the case not been given so much attention, Ravi probably never would have faced a jury at all. The prosecutors in this case had no choice but to pander to public outrage and push the harshest possible charges. After all, that's the best path towards reelection.
That reality -- that our justice system is politicized -- paints the best picture of why the system is so broken. Public opinion has no place in any criminal justice system. The point of justice is to administer fair, justifiable punishments that, most importantly, protect the safety and the interests of the public.
The fact is, if Ravi is sentenced to serve time in prison, our country will be no safer than if he walked the streets as a free man. There was no violence involved in this crime, and it is questionable as to what danger he really presents, if any.
Smacking Ravi with criminal charges and removing a chunk of his life through prison time will only make it more likely that he will have trouble finding a job later on in life. That's not good for anyone.
As far as punishment goes, serving time in prison will do little to make Ravi feel worse about what he did. He is already a nationally condemned figure who has to live with the guilt of being involved in someone's death. It would have been acceptable for, say, Rutgers to suspend or expel him. Either way you slice it, Ravi's life is in shambles as a result of this case, and my guess is that he's learned his lesson.
Ultimately, prison time should be a last resort. Unless there is a clear threat to public safety, it serves no ones interest to have people locked up and make it more difficult for them to become integrated into society. Worse yet, it's expensive for taxpayers.
Too often, prison is used as a torture chamber to relieve public anger. That is why the United States houses 25 percent of the world's prisoners, while only notching five percent percent of the worlds population. That's a lot of money to spend on a system that does nothing to make us safer, and only breeds unemployment and disintegration with the rest of society.
We could have been having a critical discussion about the demons of cyberbullying and hate crimes, but we instead decided to flex our muscles and get tough. That's not justice, for Mr. Ravi or for Clementi.
Follow Jess Coleman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@jesskcoleman