"I agree with you that we should not house juveniles with adults in prison," said the caller to a radio talk show on which I had been explaining Amnesty International's recent report on juvenile justice in the United States. "You're right that they're likely to be raped in there and in my opinion rape is too good for them. Instead we should chop off two fingers at their first offense, chop off a hand at the second, and chop off their heads at a third."
I have learned to expect anything on talk radio, but what was remarkable about this caller's comment was not just its bloodthirstiness. What was unusual was that the sentiment had been stated so forthrightly. For while the United States does indeed remain an extraordinarily violent society, we expend a great deal of energy attempting to cloak that violence in the raiment of respectabilitythe mythos of Americans as civilized, God-fearing people, slow to anger, reluctant to commit aggression. And nowhere is that self-image more pervasive than in the U.S. criminal justice system itself.