Mention of the phrase criminal justice evokes the image of a violator, police, the court and prison or a crime. Criminal Justice entails a system of practices and institutions of government that prevent and act on crime by way of imposing discipline on offenders with penalties and rehabilitation efforts. The criminal justice in America has raised concern over time due to the high rates of incarceration that have been recorded in the country. Whereas it may be argued that the justice systems has somewhat failed to deter crime, on the other hand, there is also the possibility that America’s societal practices in as far as the maintenance of law and order is concerned are wanting. In light of this, there is the need to better understand the criminal justice systems in the United States. In this case, addressing the goals, characteristics and composition of the justice system becomes vital.
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Since there are various states in America federalism forms the basis of solving a majority of the issues facing the government. The justice system is no different. This involves sharing of power between the national government and independent state governments. The constitution does not impose criminal justice on the federal government though the latter’s participation is vast and invaluable. Its involvement has seen the establishment of such institutions as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and several federal prisons. Neither of the justice systems is superior to the other; rather they work together to enforce laws, sanction offenders and perform other duties related to upholding social control. State law is basically concerned with matters of the state which involve action on such activities as traffic control, drug offenses and burglary. The federal system has duties on issues like espionage, drug trafficking, terrorism and other crimes that are often interconnected in states (for example, terrorism). Synchrony of both systems serves to strengthen their efficiency though that may not be the case always.
The national and state justice systems have objectives which form the ground for their daily duties. First, the criminal justice system aims to do justice. Under this they are entitled to treat everyone fairly regardless of ethnicity or other factors that may alter judgment. People are held accountable for their actions and are all entitled to protection once they get in touch with the system. Perhaps justice is not always attained but it is a major objective of the system. Secondly, criminal justice aims to control crime. Offenders are therefore arrested, prosecuted and punished in accordance with the stipulations of the law. It is in controlling crimes that things like police patrol and prisons are evidenced in everyday life.
Thirdly, the system aims to prevent crime. The way criminal justice system treats previous offenders has an impact on future offenses. Rehabilitation of offenders for instance is done to stop them from repeating the same vices, or give them alternative options to what made them violate the law initially (Renter 1-6).
Criminal justice is characterized by discretion, resource dependence, filtering and carrying out sequential tasks. In discretion, officers are allowed to act on their conscience implying that though stated laws account to justice, circumstances can change a judgment based on other factors that befit self interest; an issue often criticized though it has its justifications.
The criminal justice system is not self sufficient but rather dependent on key players with whom it requires rapport for its efficiency. Other players include resource allocators like mayors and legislators, the media and even voters. Duties of the criminal justice are characterized by a series of tasks before a final verdict is made. For instance the offender is arrested by the police, prosecuted by a court of law and the prosecutor’s decision determines their final state. Criminal justice is characterized by filtering, so that just like in a filter only what is wanted passes, such that not all arrested individuals proceed to conviction based on the discretion principle.
Criminal justice is composed of three parts; the police who are mainly responsible for enforcing law, the courts under which adjudication is done and last correction which encompass prisons and rehabilitation centers. Perhaps the first encounter with criminal justice a person comes in touch with is the police. They are all over the streets, residential areas, recreation areas, out to simply maintain law and order. Their actions are predominantly based on discretion as stated earlier and hence they will not arrest every offender they come across. For instance on matters of noise, a policeman has to determine how disorderly it is and whether it is in the right frame of law to justify arrest. His actions are also subject to cooperation of witnesses, victims, and the community as a whole.
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With regard to duties, police are required to protect people both from themselves and others. In so doing they keep peace and sanity in a community. A policeman will not sit and watch a fight even if he is not on duty. Secondly, it is their duty to arrest and fight crimes, a duty that everyone is familiar with. Third, the police are obliged to prevent crime as much as they fight it by reducing likelihood of a crime happening. Just how chaotic would roads be if there were no police officers? Their participation in providing social services to people such as tracing lost property and recovering it and directing traffic is invaluable.
From the hands of the police a defendant is directed to the court. It is here that adjudication is done; one’s guilt or innocence is determined. The United States holds a dual court system which allows for a separate judicial system for states alongside the national system. The court has magistrates who are meant to be impartial and devoid of prejudice. Their discretion is less than that of the policeman considering that they have to rely on information given to them on the basis of the arrest. Magistrates usually set a defendant’s bail amount and appoint counsel where necessary.
The judicial system has been blamed where magistrates are concerned because of little attention they give before giving a verdict. This is in relation to information; most do not demand enough information on a case nor do they ensure suspects know of their rights like necessity of legal representation prior to judgment. In determining a bail amount, magistrates have also been blamed for setting a bail based on set standard rates. High bails are geared by the judicial systems towards discouraging repeated crimes. The question of whether a defendant is guilty or not has not been solved yet a high bail set on them (one they cannot afford) ensures they remain remanded until their case can be heard.
At the courts, is the prosecutor or district attorney who explains to the court the nature of the crime committed, detailing any incriminating evidence to the accused. In America they are said to determine how a case will be even before proceedings start. Most are known to influence the verdict of juries, decide whether a case is listened to or dropped and set charges against a defendant. The juvenile system which is usually treated as an informal court, does not have prosecutor or judges as decision is often made by screening officers also acting on discretionary controls as they find fit.
The decision of whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty is made by a disinterested party, in this case the judge, a panel of judges or a jury. They are supposed to come up with a unanimous decision and for America the process varies from state to state and the level of the court that prosecution is taking place. The system allows room for plea bargaining where there is a reduced sentence something that saves states from formal trials. The plea bargaining implies that a defendant pleas guilty and subsequent leniency or reduced charges.
The last part of criminal justice is correction, assuming that a defendant was found guilty. In most cases the correctional facility is a prison. A prison first ensures that a convict does not perpetrate further crimes because of exclusion from the general public. Life in prisons is not meant to be easy. Therefore, secondly from an ethical point of view, hardships experienced in prison are meant to be a retribution for harm they caused their victims. A murderer, for instance with enough conscience might never forgive himself or herself for their action if nothing is done for their wrong doing, and can easily lead to suicide. Third, prisons offer room for rehabilitation. Most social deviants do not have secure jobs or even formal education. Prisons offer schooling and job training so that on release prisoners can have something to go back to.
Other than prisons, fines may be imposed on the accused which come in form of money that goes to victims or the state. For juveniles and even some adults, probation and house arrest are applied and in case they breach rules that come with these two, offenders are then put to prison.
American correctional facilities are quite crowded, implying incarceration rates grow daily. They are often situated far from residential areas; after all they are meant to seclude prisoners from the general public. However, the need for correspondence of prison officials with the other criminal justice system is forgotten, hence prison activities are not well monitored other than by prison officers alone.
It is important to mention parole in the American justice system. Its administration is questionable however skilled and knowledgeable the officials administering it are, in part due to insufficient information and little supervision prior to its being (Unger 1).
The American criminal justice system is as good as it has been. However, it is in need of reform, experiments and subsequent innovation if it has to obtain its three simplistic objectives: upholding justice, controlling crime and preventing crime. The changes are needed as the current efforts are not recording improvement. If there was improvement, there would be fewer crimes, less people being incarcerated and perhaps more confidence shown by the public. Community involvement is necessary as well as better coordination else it will remain stagnant as is the case so far.
Renter, Elizabeth. “The Goals of sentencing in today’s criminal justice system”. 2010. Web.
Unger, Howard. “Criminal Justice in America”. Policy Today. 2007. Web.