As he presents his ID badge at the secure entrance, Matthew Wilkerson looks just like a junior executive starting his workday at a corporate office. But he is actually one of the new breed of judges specifically trained to work within the new judicial system instigated by the conservative President and Congress that came to power in 2020. The 32-year old is told by older judges that even though he might not have the same pay or scope for decision-making as the traditional judges (who are being phased out as they retire), but the other aspects of the job are much more pleasant.
As he enters the building each day, he enters a well-designed modern building with all the latest technological advancements to help his work. “And because a judge got murdered when the new criminal justice laws were being passed, in the courtroom itself we are behind one-way mirrors – we can see the rest of the court, but they can’t see us.” That, combined with voice alteration technology, which transforms a judge’s voice in his office behind the screen into a neutral undistinguishable voice in the courtroom, ensures that no-one in the court knows exactly who the judge is. “As well as making it safer for judges, it means that experienced attorneys who know the quirks of individual judges don’t get an unfair advantage.”
The new model of criminal justice also has other advantages. “In the past, judges usually had to deal with people who were constantly in trouble, people who didn’t really care too much what a judge said. But now, I have plenty of defendants in front of me who are normal people, who are very concerned by the trouble they are in. So there is much more chance that the words we say to them, and the sentence we pass, can really make a difference and make sure they don’t break the law in future.” The reason for the change in the composition of the defendants is because of the new zero tolerance approach to criminal justice. Wilkerson explains that “Violent crime was in historic decline, but I think a lot of people were still not happy. According to the crime statistics, people were safer than ever, but they didn’t feel that way. That’s why a zero tolerance crime platform did so well in 2020, I think, and that’s why we now have a very different, a much stricter, attitude towards what used to be thought of as anti-social behavior or misdemeanours.”
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