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For those of us who have been involved in any activities designed to improve social justice or reduce poverty in developing nations, this book provides a disquieting and alarming insight into how such efforts (including housing projects, youth education and microfinance ventures) are doomed to fail until effective criminal justice systems are established. Failures of public justice systems to protect the poor are rigorously documented and punctuated with horrific examples of cases investigated by International Justice Mission (IJM) workers, wherein people in poverty have been subjected to slavery, trafficking, sexual exploitation, imprisonment and violence.

The book explains why such widespread and egregious failures of public justice systems go unreported and how these corrupt systems often protect the interests of the ruling class perpetrators who exploit the poor. In many cases, private justice systems have been established that protect international business interests and the wealthy, while causing further deterioration of public justice systems. In developing countries there are relatively few police and lawyers per capita, and the existing officials tend to be poorly trained and corrupt. In many cases, common people (understandably) fear violence from police more than they fear thieves or mobsters. The court systems are hopelessly backlogged and ill-equipped to deal with case loads, so that many wrongfully detained are likely to languish in prison for years or die before they are ever brought to trial. Inefficiency and corruption are so engrained in such systems that any attempts at reformation seem extremely difficult and unlikely to succeed.

Fortunately, the authors don’t leave us in despair but cite several examples from recent history in which seemingly hopelessly corrupt public justice systems have been challenged and replaced with ones that are now considered exemplary. While acknowledging that meaningful reform must be driven largely by widespread public action within such societies, they offer suggestions about how international agencies, NGOs and charitable organizations can become involved. They advocate a cautious approach, using wisdom gained from prior experience and starting on a small scale with careful attention to information gathering and documentation. Ultimately, such efforts can be rewarding, restoring justice and hope to those most in need.

This book can be borrowed by St. Paul's Members from our library.
More information on the book is available at