How did we arrive at such a system of injustice?
I have met with many people who will describe themselves as anarchists or libertarians. They are frequently dismissed as nut cases with some utopian ideal of society that would never work. However, when it comes to criminal justice, they make some really great points.
What I see as one of the major problems in this country, as well as in others, is that we have given to men the power to create laws which in turn create crimes out of activites that some people do not approve of. We have given them such great power that not only can they create a crime out of an act that ultimately causes harm to another person, but we have given them the power to create a crime out of an act that causes absolutely no harm to any other person.
With this power, comes the ability for law makers to ban acts that they disapprove of. The danger of this is exaggerated by the fact that even in America's supposed democratic system where lawmakers are representatives of the people, the lawmakers decisions are not very well representative of the people.
This type of environment creates a crime out of things like smoking cigarettes, consuming marijuana, not wearing a seatbelt, engaging in consentual sex in exchange for money, fair gambling by-the-rules. It allows other acts to become crimes without paying for a right. For example, the freedom of assembly is frequently taxed by requiring a permit, and anyone attempting to organize an assembly without such a permit can be penalized. Failure to pay that penalty can result in the confiscation of property or imprisonment.
Now one may argue that wearing your seatbelt is a good idea. But should it be forced by law? Of course we know now that many of these laws are created as a way of increasing revenue for the government, but why do we allow it?
Now consider when, in an attempt to catch these criminals in the act, the government itself creates situations where these "crimes" will take place. They are literally creating the crime, then arresting a participant as the criminal.
Back to the libertarian or anarchist view, it is a crime in itself to make such laws. You are turning an ordinary act into a crime for the purpose of locking someone in prison or collecting a fine. It is not so much a utopian system where real crime such as theft and murder would cease to exist, it's simply a more just system where man can not criminalize and tax an activity that other people voluntarily conduct among themselves.
For example with gambling. This is one of the easiest to attack, because while gambling is illegal in most places in the US, there is always a legal lottery. Yes, the government will actually call gambling a crime, yet they will run the biggest gambling scheme of them all. If a group of people decide to gather and play a game of poker, where it would cost a specified amount to play, and the winner would walk away with the pot, where is the crime?
In our current system, this is a crime, simply because some people, whether a majority or minority with more political influence, have decided that other people should not participate in such an activity. Did it stop gambling from occuring? No, it simply drove it into black market, where people must meet in secret locations. Places where if someone is robbed, they would not be able to call the police to help them retrieve their property - a service which, criminal or not, every person has already paid for the privelege to.
In a libertarian/anarchist criminal justice system, gambling itself would not be a crime. Operating a casino in a way in which cheats would be a crime of fraud, because the expectation of the customers is that they will be paying for a fair game. Robbing someone outside of a casino would be a crime of theft, because it is the taking of someone elses property without consent. In a libertarian society, a victim of one of these true crimes would have the opportunity to seek justice by the government or by the public without the government.
I won't get into the detail of how anarchists describe their criminal justice system, but there are some well thought out plans for this. The point is that while one person might disapprove of gambling for any reason, it is a consentual act that does not have a victim. But in our current system, the government can actually use the claim by one person that it is a distasteful act as a means of creating a crime arbitrarily via legislation. They can then justify the use of military force by means of a SWAT team to raid an illegal place where gambling occurs. They can use this as a means to steal the property of both the gamblers and the house as their money is now "illegal". They can use this as a means to steal property, deeming a building a place of "illegal business", selling it at auction to the public for the benefit of the state.
Now most proponents of this, or at least those who are apathetic to it, will simply dismiss this as "yeah, but they were breaking the law".
But consider this. With absolutely no laws, would murder be a crime? What about theft? Of course they would, because it would be easy to see that these are both crimes where there is a victim. There doesn't need to be a law on the books, because it is obvious that you are taking something from someone that does not belong to you - life or property.
Now in such a system, there is a place where people go to gamble. This isn't illegal because there isn't any legislation against it. Now imagine where a group of people would break into such a place, and take property from all participants, evict the owners and auction the property to the public? Wouldn't this be the crime of theft?
So while we are used to such laws because it has long been the case, laws that have been passed since before I was born and also before many others were born, we are accostomed to it. But without a group of men writing on paper that the government may break into a place where men voluntarily gamble with eachother, take all their property, and use it for themselves or sell it to the public, this would simply be a crime in itself.
So what we have in our current justice system is a method where a group of men have actually legalized theft for their own benefit.
The libertarian or anarchist systems would not allow this. It would not put an end to cheats, but it would allow a victim of cheating to make public notice of it without being labeled as a criminal himself. It would not put an end to theft, but it would allow a victim to seek restitution without being labeled as a criminal himself.
There are many more crimes which operate in the same fasion. Many are traffic laws and drug laws. While it might be a good idea to follow these rules, it doesn't mean the government should have the right to steal your property because you forgot to put on your seatbelt, or decided to peacefully use marijuana in the privacy of your own home.
While these might not be behaviors that you would engage in, it's important to remember. While you can condone the use of government force to turn these acts into crimes, it is just as easy that others who disapprove of something you do could be converted into a crime. Perhaps it's talking on the phone while in line at a grocery store. This may seem farfetched, but we are already banning smoking while in public - something that could have easily been accomplished by people refusing to shop at places that allowed smoking - not by converting it into a crime.
These are things to consider, and while not everyone agrees with everything that libertarians or anarchists have to say, especially where they can't even agree among themselves, I do believe in the concept that the only system of justice that will work is one in which the only crimes are acts where there is a victim.