The media plays up the drama of police arrests and convictions, and once a defendant or victim is well-known, their story is what is featured in the news. Likewise, the protests that erupt over especially egregious police actions receive a lot of media attention, particularly when these protests might turn violent.

Forgotten in this media and public attention are the families of the victims or the convicted and incarcerated defendant. The justice system offers only some sympathy to victims’ families, and certainly none to defendants’ families, though family stability and values provide the backbone for a strong society. These families are the forgotten casualties of the criminal justice system, as pointed out by Paul Brakke, author of AMERICAN JUSTICE?, who has sought to examine the problems in the criminal justice system and how to fix them.

He describes these victims as “collateral damage,” a term commonly used to refer to the unintended damages from a military operation, which includes the destruction of civilians. Likewise, whenever a family member is incarcerated or killed, there can be great damage to family units – including spouses, children, parents, and relatives, and all of the defendant’s or victim’s relationships. Stories of murders generally focus on the investigation and defendants are impacted negatively at all stages of a prosecution, from the initial charge to the trial and verdict – but they are largely forgotten by the media and public.

These damages can be huge and lifelong. Brakke became especially sensitive to this issue, when he became collateral damage after his wife was falsely accused by some kids in the neighborhood of trying to run one of them over. She had to endure being thrown into a psych ward for a five day evaluation and then a series of hearings, forcing her to finally accept a plea bargain, whereby she and her husband had to move out of the neighborhood and sell their house at a loss.

Brakke suffered extensively along with her. As he writes in his book: “I felt her anger. I felt her despair…And there was nothing I seemed to be able to do to protect her, which made me feel inadequate and worthless.” His relationships at work deteriorated, too, since colleagues had trouble understanding what he was experiencing, and he, along with his wife, experienced a lack of privacy when the local media picked up the story. In addition, the damage to the family’s finances became extensive and excessive.

While the Brakkes just barely had the finances to weather the storm, many families of defendants and victims don’t, especially when they live in the inner city where much of the crime violence that affects both victims and defendants occurs. Thus, when a male who has been the major family provider is killed or sent to prison, the family may become financially unstable. The wife may not make enough with a single income to pay the bills, and other relatives and friends may not be in a position to help. So after a few months or perhaps a year, the family may end up losing its home or be unable to pay the rent and end up living in a car, van, or truck, or worse – reduced to living in a tent.

Some of the cities with a high homeless population, such as San Francisco and Oakland, have found that a large percentage – about a quarter to a third of the homeless population – was formerly part of the middle or working class and until recently had homes. But then, due to an unlucky break, such as having a main provider incarcerated or the victim of a crime, they ended up as a homeless statistic.

In American Justice?, Brakke describes at length the problems that these families encounter – from financial woes to the breakdown of the family and the end of personal relationships for an individual who is incarcerated. Moreover, the children may suffer lasting damage, finding it difficult to cope with a parent’s incarceration or death due to a violent crime.

What is the solution to help reduce the collateral damage? In his book American Justice? and in further research on the problem, Brakke has come up with a number of possible solutions to deal with the collateral damage to the families of incarcerated prisoners. One approach is to provide extra counseling, tutoring and mentoring support through the schools to the children of incarcerated parents. Support programs could be established for the wives and children of returning prisoners, much like for the families of returning soldiers to help them better know and adjust to the difficulties ahead. He also recommends a program in which the partners of prisoners could form small support groups to take care of each other’s children when at work or during prison visits.

Additionally, he recommends the expansion of re-entry and job training for prisoners and ex-prisoners to help them successfully enter normal society. All of these programs can be provided at a low cost to reduce the collateral damage problem, while helping the families become more productive members of society. These approaches are recommended as a win-win for both the prisoners and their families and for society as a whole.

In his book, Brakke also takes on other issues in the criminal justice system, such as misconduct by overzealous prosecutors and misbehavior by judges who show bias or other problems in their rulings. His ultimate goal is to “get a national dialogue going about how to best reform the criminal justice system.” He has started a regular blog series on his website to address these issues.

The book is available through Amazon

Copies of the book are also available in PDF format to members of the press.

For more information, please contact:

TouchPoint Press at for multiple copies
Paul Brakke at for questions about his experiences with the system.
Paul Brakke at or Gini Graham Scott at for questions about the system or the book’s relationship to current events