Thomas Castellano has been a professor of criminal justice at Rochester Institute of Technology since 2003. Prior to that, he spent nearly twenty years teaching in the Criminal Justice Department at Southern Illinois University (SIU). While there, he also directed the Center for the Study of Crime, Delinquency, and Corrections, and was a member of the Illinois Governor’s Commission on Hate Crimes.
Castellano has been an outspoken critic of President Bush and the war on terror. He was the moderator of a September 20, 2001 panel discussion at Southern Illinois, which examined the potential of a situation like 9/11 “to generate hate crimes [against Arabs and Muslims], victimization, and violations of civil liberties.” At that event, Castellano characterized the Patriot Act and other post-9/11 anti-terrorism measures as assaults on those liberties. In general, he blames the United States and its allegedly “imperialist” policies for having provoked the 9/11 attacks in the first place.
Castellano claims that the United States is plagued by “Dirty Harry Syndrome,” meaning that American society glorifies vigilante justice at the expense of individual rights. In Castellano’s view, this tendency is evident not only in America’s law-enforcement policies, but also in entertainment industry trends that have turned Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, and Arnold Scwarzeneggar into cultural icons. Castellano adds that President Bush (who he says was appointed, not elected, in 2000) has himself fallen under the spell of this “syndrome,” causing him to implement “cowboy justice” in the war on terror.
According to Castellano, the Bush-Ashcroft team, in implementing the Patriot Act, was more concerned with seizing power and suppressing civil liberties than in securing the United States against terror. The professor claims that Section 802 of the Patriot Act, which authorizes the government to investigate and prosecute individuals performing acts of civil disobedience, was written solely for the purposes of silencing political opponents of the Republican Party and facilitating FBI/CIA infiltration into political organizations. He further claims that the Patriot Act will put an end to Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure.
In Castellano’s calculus: the prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay are living proof of the Bush administration’s disregard for Constitutional rights; the possibility of military tribunals are an affront to due process of law; the many immigrants who have been detained or deported under stricter immigration controls have been robbed of their civil rights; and the Department of Homeland Security was created only to give the President more power over organized labor.
Castellano teaches courses on the administration of justice, and in this role he presides over the training of students for careers as police officers and FBI agents. His chief area of interest is “the impact of crime control policies on people’s lives.” He questions the ethics of prison privatization, which he says causes inmates and staff to be treated as commodities, which in turn results in prison overcrowding. For this trend, Castellano blames conservative politicians and their ability to promote fear through the media. “We have this machine—the criminal justice prison industrial complex—that generates value to a certain segment of the population,” he says. “The machine won’t go away unless there’s a sea change in how we think of crime and punishment.”
A former member of the Southern Illinois Restorative Justice Action Committee, Castellano seeks alternatives to the incarceration of criminals. Advocating responses to crime that are “restorative” rather than “retributive,” he suggests that the members of local communities should determine, on a case-by-case basis, the harm done by a particular crime and possible ways to repair the damage done. “Crime is best addressed at the community level,” says Castellano, “with government supporting and guiding local citizens in their attempts to promote safe, secure communities through community policing, drug courts, and community corrections.”