A criminal justice system of any country is meant to ensure justice and maintain law and order in the society. A good criminal justice system must therefore provide for safer environs and reduced crime in a country. The US Criminal justice system seems to have failed on this account if one is to look at the prison incarceration rates and the soaring crime graph. This essay examines the most significant problem facing the US criminal justice system today.
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American Criminal Justice System and sentencing policies have taken a hard line stance against perpetrators of crime compared to the European courts. Considering the fact that both sides of the Atlantic constitute the developed world, a comparison of their crime statistics can give an assessment of the relative efficacy of the differing policies. A comparison of number of prisoners held in the correctional institutions gives a stark comparison. In a comparison of rates of incarceration per 100,000 people, the U.S. tops at 726 prisoners per 100,000 people compared to “England and Wales at 142, Germany at 96, and France at 91 per 100,000 people” (Political Research Associates, p. 1). As per conventional logic, the harsher, tougher mandatory sentencing policy of the United States should have resulted in much lower crime rates when compared to the ‘softer’ European policies which rely more on the indeterminate type of sentencing. The Political Research Associates(2005) very pithily observe that “ This “tougher” and harsher (U.S.) stance is not as effective as approaches other nations use, which focus more on crime prevention and rehabilitation”(p.1). Today, the American ‘Correctional’ system has the largest population of prisoners in the world. According to the U.S. Department of Justice statistics, as on 30 June 2007,” 2,299,116 prisoners were held in federal or state prisons or in local jails” (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2008, p. 1). Evidently, the European nations have certain policies which have resulted in better success in keeping crime rates low. Thus the biggest problem facing the US criminal justice system has been its inability in reducing crime rates in the country due to over reliance on the determinate type of sentencing, which results in higher rates of incarceration as well as a higher population of under trials who are held along with hardened criminals due to lack of sufficient holding facilities. Juvenile delinquencies of a serious nature are rising in the U.S. and deterrent or coercive punishments appear to have negative effects on recidivism. In fact, some studies have revealed that repeat offences increase when coercive sanctions are used against teenagers and young adults. In case of the younger adults and teenagers, “early interventions to divert individuals from offending have been found to be one of the most effective types of intervention overall” (Rubin, Rabinovich, & Hallsworth, 2006, p. 11).
In conclusion it can stated that the biggest problem facing the US criminal system has been its inability in reducing crime in the country, controlling juvenile delinquency and reducing prison incarceration rates. This has been due to over reliance on the determinate style of sentencing that seeks to punish rather than reform. A suggested way forward would be to follow European indeterminate style of sentencing and use of early intervention in which the community, the police and the social workers identify the vulnerable individuals who are most likely to take up a life of crime. Having identified such individuals, the community then puts into place measures to prevent those individuals from falling wayside by providing them education, jobs and other avenues to utilize their energies.
- Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2008). Prison Statistics. Web.
- Political Research Associates. (2005). United States Versus the World.
- Rubin, J., Rabinovich, L., & Hallsworth, M. a. (2006). Intervention to Redice Antisocial Behaviour and Crime.