The criminal justice system in the United States of America has been developed through years of change in the country. When most people think of the criminal justice system often they will envision the police forces in each state and courthouses.
The criminal justice system is so much more than this. It also includes both the federal and state government agencies and courts, as well as the specific military and territorial police courts.
All of these entities share one common goal, being to enforce the laws of the USA, which keeps the general public safe.
The criminal justice system includes every aspect of a crime, this includes arrest, prosecution, court determinations, the outcome of sentencing as well as any appeals related to the case and corrections.
While many may have theories about the purpose of the criminal justice system in the USA there are five specific and primary objectives that the system strives to achieve.
- Retribution – holding people responsible for crimes that have been committed
- Deterrence – preventing crime
- Rehabilitation – helping offenders reform and return to communities as law abiding members
- Incapacitation – protecting the public from offenders while also punishing offenders
- Restoration – supporting victims of crime, their families and witnesses
These objectives are discussed in more detail below.
Retribution refers to a theory of punishment that when the law is broken, justice requires that the offender suffers in return. The response to a crime should always be proportional to the offence itself and laws are in place to ensure this law is adhered to.
The consequences of wrongdoing or committing a crime, often result in a prison sentence for the offender.
The laws underlying the criminal justice system are intended to deter future criminal acts. The concept is that convicted criminals are made to pay for their crimes in order to decrease recidivism.
It is hoped that by making other possible offenders aware of what consequences they may face would be enough to deter them from committing the act in the first place.
Young offenders are often brought to adult correction facilities to show them where their lifestyle of crime could lead them.
One of the main objectives of the corrections systems is to give criminals the opportunity to go through rehabilitation in a supported space so they may return to society as valuable, law abiding members.
Even criminals who receive life sentences, are provided with rehabilitative opportunities.
Rehabilitation programs available to offenders vary from educational programs and job skill training workshops to substance abuse support groups and services. Criminals are given the choice to better themselves.
The general public often fears that convicted criminals could offend again and so there must be guarantees put in place to keep the offender in line and also to put the public at ease.
Incapacitation is used to effectively protect the public from the criminal acts of the offender as the offender is removed from society for a specific period of time or lives under parole which sets certain limitations to their daily lives.
In some societies, incapacitation can be carried out in the form of the death penalty or banishment, however, these practices are not legal in a number of states in the USA and so often it can come in the form of a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Incapacitation protects society while also penalizing the offender.
In the case of some crimes, the offender may be ordered by the courts to restore or repair any damages inflicted on the victim. The purpose of this is to restore the status of the victim to their pre-crime state.
What is the criminal justice system?
The criminal justice system is an organization that exists specifically to enforce legal codes in a country. In the USA, the criminal justice system is operated within three main components, being law enforcement agencies, court systems, and corrections systems.
Law enforcement officials, such as the police or government agencies such as the FBI, begin work when a crime has been committed and they conduct an investigation.
This investigation leads to a court process that ultimately ends with the corrections system, depending on the case and the sentencing outcome.
How does the criminal justice system work?
There are seven steps that are followed the enable the criminal justice system to work in a fair and legal manner. If any of these steps are not completed within the constraints of the law that is seen as a failure within the system.
The first two steps are carried out by law enforcement agencies, they are investigation and charging. The remaining five are carried out within the court of law.
The first steps in this process are an initial hearing or arraignment and discovery which is when evidence is shared between parties to prepare for sharing this during the trial.
A plea bargain, preliminary hearing, and pre-trial motions are all carried out in the lead-up to a trial. The final step is the trial itself.
Is the criminal justice system the same in every state in the USA?
While laws may vary between the states the criminal justice system, and its components, remain the same across the USA. The system will always be made up of law enforcement, the courts, and the corrections system.
Why are there different levels of law enforcement?
As the USA is such a large country, it is in the public interest that law enforcement is broken down to three levels to ensure citizens are kept safe and supported.
There are three labels of law enforcement in the USA. Federal law enforcement is made up of state and local enforcement agencies.
They deal directly with serious domestic and international threats. The next level is State law enforcement which maintains peace and safety in their relative state.
The final level is local and municipal law enforcement. This final level of enforcement protects specific counties, cities, and communities within states in the USA.