Little to No Understanding of the Criminal Justice System

Caleb Williams, who describes himself as a student and criminal justice reform advocate, asked his Twitter followers to tweet things they’ve heard that show that the speaker has “little to no understanding of the justice system.” I had no idea who Caleb Williams is: the tweet was just dropped in front of me by the Twitter algorithm. Williams got dozens of responses that I was interested to read.

Unfortunately, the responses (and Williams’ own statements) had the opposite of the intended effect. Instead of having a laugh at criminal justice dilettantes, the tweets showed how little Caleb Williams and his followers understood about the system. This is a big problem, since well-meaning people need all the facts before they can ask for the right changes. In this area of public policy, the wrong changes have deadly consequences. And then I found out who Caleb Williams is and what he has done.

Here’s the tweet that started it off:

I read this and thought, “that’s true! His example of a false statement is actually true!” It takes guts, and a perverse kind of bravery, to break the law and commit a crime. When a burglar breaks into a home he’s taking a lot of big risks, including the risk that the owner will be there with a shotgun. That burglar can’t turn around and complain that he can’t go to prison because he’s frightened or too fragile or something.

But Twitter is fun exactly because you can talk directly to people who say ridiculous things. So I decided to contribute to the discussion. I found many ridiculous things in the comments.

Misconceptions About Criminal Justice

People are getting away with murder at an incredible rate. In California in 2021, 45% of murders did not even result in an arrest, much less a conviction. Over the past four decades, homicide clearance rates – the metric used to determine how many homicides police solve – have decreased from about 71% in 1980 to an all-time low of about 50% in 2020, according to separate analyses of FBI data by the non-profits the Marshall Project and Murder Accountability Project. “We’re on the verge of being the first developed nation where the majority of homicides go uncleared,” said Thomas Hargrove, founder of the Murder Accountability Project, which tracks unsolved homicides in the US.

Here’s another tweet:

This is inarguably true, not false, as the tweet implies. If anything, the comment doesn’t go far enough. Did you know that California prisoners are now being given tablets to use in custody? Prisoners get many more benefits than medical, food, recreation, and rehabilitation. Here’s an overview of California’s prison spending:

Importantly, prisoners get a free education, not just through a high school diploma, but also through a college degree. That means a prisoner is entitled to a free public education through college, while a law abiding citizen is not. Incredibly, the education benefits don’t end there. Prisoners can also get “career technical education” in things like auto body repair, carpentry, coding, plumbing and welding.

In addition to regular medical care, prisoners get mental health care, including medication, individual and group therapy, in-patient psychiatric care, 24-hour nursing supervision, and more, according to Stanford Law School. They get dental care, including in-custody dental clinics, dentists, and hygienists.

Some female prisoners who are pregnant or a mother to a child under six have the opportunity to be released from prison and housed in “a beautifully landscaped state of the art child-friendly campus in the City of Santa Fe Springs.” California pays to house, feed, and clothe the children while providing trauma-informed substance abuse prevention, as well as parenting classes and education.

The state’s generosity doesn’t end at the prison door. Parolees are entitled to “gate money,” a small gift that they may use to buy clothes, a bus ticket, or even a steak dinner. Parolees can get several types of loans from their parole agent, which the taxpayer is responsible for. The Prison Law Office identified 18 types of benefits for parolees in this 2011 letter. They include extensive reentry services, such as support for employment assistance and placement, relationship therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, education, housing, and vocational training.

Here’s another commenter with little to no understanding of the criminal justice system:

Virtually all prisoners get out; only a tiny fraction are serving life without parole. But people are understandably worried that violent criminals will hurt people in the community when they are released. That’s because 46% of criminals released from prison are back in prison in 3 years. This statistic is worth unpacking. It’s not a statistic about the number of prisoners who commit new crimes. It’s not a statistic about the number of prisoners who commit new crimes and get caught. The 46% number is the number of prisoners who commit crimes, get caught, get either convicted or have their parole violated, and have to return to prison, all in just 3 years.

The picture gets worse the longer you watch a released prisoner. 70% of prisoners released in 2012 were arrested again within five years, according to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). The recidivism rate is over 80% for prisoners with juvenile records. The Bureau of Justice Statistics followed prisoners for nine years and found that 83% are arrested at least once. Many were arrested more than once: there was an average of five arrests per released prisoner.

The overwhelming majority of prisoners go back to crime when they are released. That’s why we should be very careful about who we release and when. There are many more bad replies to Caleb Williams, but here’s the last one I will highlight:

People who understand the criminal justice system know that “innocent until proven guilty” is the way the system actually works. The state has to prove that a person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s the highest standard in the law. Any doubt that is reasonable means acquittal. Moreover, the state has to prove this to 12 people. Not just one, not three, but 12. That means none of the twelve jurors can have any reasonable doubts. Then the defendant can ask the judge to overturn the jury verdict if the judge has a problem with the evidence.

Just as a fun thought experiment, pick five family members and try to convince them, beyond a reasonable doubt, that aliens don’t exist. You will be surprised.

Who is Caleb Williams?

I though that Caleb Williams might just be another well-intentioned reform type who doesn’t have his facts straight. The truth is a lot darker.

Caleb Williams is a convicted sex offender. He was convicted of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. The conviction stemmed from sexual abuse of a minor between the ages of 13 and 17, over the course of three years between May 2015 and May 2018. According to news reports, he got the child pregnant. He was ordered not to participate in holiday events involving children and not to have access to a computer with internet access. He later requested partial custody of the child he conceived with the underage victim.

Caleb Williams’ picture from the National Sex Offender Registry

All of this information was easy to find because Williams is mildly famous for being on TV. Williams is “a longtime family friend” of sex offending reality star Josh Duggar “who at one point was romantically linked to Josh’s eldest sister, Jana.” Josh Duggar later accused Caleb Williams of framing him.

According a random person on Twitter, Williams was also present at the January 6th capitol insurrection. I’m not sure this is right, but you can look at the picture and judge for yourself.

Caleb Williams is a human being and his views on the system are backed up by more experience than most. He’s got a well-written blog with the slogan “you are worthy of a second chance,” which is certainly true. But I have to wonder if Williams has decided to blame the system for his disturbing crimes because he can’t blame himself.

Many people (sex offenders are people too) cannot psychologically cope with the awful things they have done, so they project onto others. Specifically, they can project the self-hatred that they may feel onto the system that held them accountable. Or at least that’s what years of work in this field suggests to me. And I’m not alone. Dr. Stanton Samenow, in his book Inside the Criminal Mind, writes that criminals often have “errors in thinking,” such as “claiming to be a victim and blaming others when held accountable.”

In this case, Williams seems to be blaming the system for his actions, rather than blaming himself. That’s sad, because many people on Twitter, including me, do not know about Williams’ background when they read his tweets. They may think he really is a “student” and “reform advocate” like he describes himself. They may not realize that they may be listening to someone with their own agenda and issues to work through.


Williams also has a problem with law enforcement, thinks cops are racist, thinks that prisons exist to make money for states, that sex registration is harassment, and that Elon Musk’s “Pope Coat” was “fire.” You can find those hot takes and many more on his Twitter account.

Featured image credit: Instagram.

1 Comment

  1. gigilovesmail says:

    Aside from the Caleb story, governments need to really think about these statistics . It may appear that prisoners reoffend because prisons are not reforming. But it’s obvious that the services provided free in prisons are what makes a productive and therefore happier and ‘smoother’ society . These are services that need to be offered to every citizen. governments could easily pay for quality education right through to college. They could provide free dental and medical. They could house every one of us in affordable and appropriate circumstances. They could offer mental health services. Job training. All of it. But the fact is, they don’t care. They make irresponsible and corrupt choices that serve their egos and pockets. The TRILLIONS that are unaccounted for in tax payers dollars, need to not be shrugged off. Every dollar needs to be accounted for. Those trillions could fix every single issue that faces society right now. Once you have a population who feel worthy, cared for, important, safe, healthy, intelligent and who believe they are part of a well managed ‘community’ where they are valuable, all the problems that cause crime and jail time are going to dissolve. … But this would not at all suit the systems that they have set up for us. That would mean, no insurance companies, no police (or at least very limited) no armies, no judges, no sheriffs… The control over us will be lost, because we will work out very quickly, that we don’t need politicians, policy makers, pentagons, CIA , FBI .. We will reconnect as humans are supposed to, and work with each other towards the common good. The money spent on prisoners, is merely to ensure that they have healthy returning customers.


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