Criminal Justice System in the United States of America

Criminal Justice is a field of study and an institution which supports social control, discourages painful crimes, or punishes those who violate laws with strict punishment and rehabilitation.

Criminal Justice system varies in different countries. In the U.S., the individual accused of a crime is given his rights and undergoes a trial, unlike many other countries. This system is like a network which consists of federal, state, and special jurisdictional levels like military courts or territorial courts and Criminals laws over here differ as per the US Constitution. The Criminal Justice System of the U.S. is highly influenced by the criminal system of the Britishers. The three features of this system are:

  • Law Enforcement in the American Justice System
  • The Courts in the American Justice system
  • Corrections in the American Justice system

criminal justice

This system is directed by President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Admission of Justice of 1967 which provided a report “The Challenge of crime in a Free Society” whose 200 recommendations also made an entry into the “Omnibus Crime Control And Safe Streets Act of 1968”.Moreover, law enforcement, courts, etc., was improved.

The Criminal System of the U.S. differs from that of other countries not only in terms of its rank which was 19th in 2014 as per Rule of Law Index but also in terms of imprisoned people who are approximately 2.4 million. Also, the Criminal Justice in the U.S. is a type of reform that makes an effort to remove previous flaws in the Criminal Justice system. Some of the institutions that promote this reformation are Penal Reform International, Southern Poverty Law Centre, etc. They work towards decreasing long and harsh prison sentences, changing drug sentencing policy, and juvenile justice. They spread the consciousness among the citizens but mostly the state and federal government through legal disputes and public events. Thus, the Criminal Justice system is important in all locations.

  1. Racial Disparities

The real definition of race is “the difference that may or may not prevail in relation to discrimination”. Racial Disparity is a severe problem wherein it is often understood that the Whites are superior and the members belonging to other races like Asian, Native Americans, etc., are inferior to them. This was found to be true when the individuals belonging to different groups were treated differently in the fields of education, housing, employment, and criminal justice.

In order to understand racial disparities in detail, Criminal justice experts have differentiated it into legal and extralegal factors. A survey conducted in 2009 shows that among the prisoners, 4.7% are Blacks and Hispanics are 1.8% as opposed to Whites who were only 0.7%. Often people belonging from different races are treated differently because of hundreds of years old ideologies of superiority. As a result, experts have debated and have shown various dominant factors which led to disparities. They have supported the fact that minority defendants are charged with minor charges like a mandatory minimum prison sentence frequently (depending on the classification of races mainly for Hispanics) which often leads to large racial disparities in correctional facilities.

  1. Is the Criminal Justice System Racist?

A few decades ago, sociologist William Willbanks rejected the idea of racism in the Criminal Justice system in his book “The Myth of a Criminal Justice System”. He argued that discrimination exists because of others factors like poverty and defendants prior record.

While other reports suggest that racism ended in the U.S. with the Civil Rights but actually there are racial discriminations at every stage of the justice system to date. There is one ratio which suggests that among the African-Americans, 1 in every 4 has a chance of going to jail, unlike Whites for whom the ratio is 1 in 23 people. In spite of the U.S. society being prosperous and “democratic”, the people who are in the minority are the ones who get the least benefits. As per a Bureau of Justice statistics concludes that if the current imprisoning rates remain unchanged, 32% of black males and 17% of  Latino males born in 2001 can expect to spend time in jail during their lifetime which is only 6% for White males. African-American make up to 12% of the U.S. population but today they compose of 40% of all prisoners and 42% of those sentenced to death. Moreover, people belonging to other groups are often treated more harshly, their arrest rate is more, a negligible bail amount, etc. The following points give a gist of what is it like to be a Black American in the US justice system:

  • Black Americans are more likely to be arrested for drug use, although only 15% of them are actually drug users and 72% of them turn out to be the Whites.
  • Black Americans, who consist of 12.7% of the U.S. population, are more likely to be imprisoned while awaiting trial.
  • Black Americans are more likely to be offered a plea deal that includes jailing period.
  • Black Americans may be excluded from juries because of their group.
  • Black Americans are more often likely to serve longer sentences than white Americans for the same offence.
  • Black Americans are more likely to be deprived of their rights because of a felony conviction.
  • Black Americans are more likely to have trial revoked.
  • African-Americans represent 48.2% of American adults in State or Federal prisons and local jails.
  1. Citizen Participation

Citizens, often a forgotten part of the society, play a major role in the justice system that is unique in the entire world. They help to maintain a balance between democracy and order. ‘Volunteerism’ is a term used to denote public participation in a social and political system of the U.S. It is estimated that currently, there are approximately 500,000 voluntary organizations which actually began in 1841 when a Boston shoemaker, John Augustus, became the first probation officer. He was an unpaid volunteer due to which volunteerism was displaced in the early 1900’s by professionally trained and paid probation officers. However, in the early 1960’s, it emerged again and since then it has spread extensively. Today around 200,000 volunteers donate their precious time in 2,000 courts in the entire U.S.  These citizens also show their support in various other activities which are as follows:

  • Lobbying elected officials-

In order to support the criminal justice policy, various interest groups are formed and their representatives pass legislation which influences everyone.

  • Influencing judicial policymaking-

They are usually the disadvantaged groups in the court who also presents arguments and facts on the behalf of others and their

The only goal is to make sure justice is provided by being impartial.

  • Raising public consciousness-

The interest groups also raise awareness of the citizens and government about criminal justice issues.

  • Performing jury duty-

The system exhibits a strong support to a jury of laypersons and enhances a citizen’s opportunities in

learning law and justice process.

  • Reporting the crimes and testifying in criminal cases-

Nearly all crime situations have some eye-witness who is a citizen and have some general knowledge

important to the criminal case.

  • Establishing and conducting meditation-

There are many Reparative boards in the U.S. that remove cases from the courts and aim to solve them in a meditative and non-adversarial manner by saving money.

  1. Rights Consciousness and Civil Liberties

 The actual source of the citizen’s rights in America is the Bill of Rights that came into force in 1791 and also comprises of the first ten amendments to the constitution. The Americans are quite aware of their rights especially the individual rights offered to them by the government. In spite of not being conscious of the content of specific rights, they assert their rights anyway. They are conscious of their rights because many of the rights are related to the procedures through which government can take away their life, liberty and property. The government is forbidden to violate those rights. There is a significant difference between Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Civil Rights which means equal treatment to a person irrespective of their race, gender, and disability whereas Civil Liberties throw light on the basic freedom that a person is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights and through the years it is interpreted by courts and lawmakers. Some examples of Civil Liberties are as under:

  • Right to privacy
  • Right to jury trial
  • Right to freedom of religion
  • Right to travel safely
  • Right to freedom of speech
  • Right to free from self-inscription
  • Right to bear arms
  • Right to marry
  • Right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizure of your property
  • Right to freedom of the press
  • Right to legal counsel
  • Right to be free from cruel and unusual punishments
  • Right to assemble peacefully
  • Right to vote

These liberties are not in order and many among them are actually on the basis of court cases.



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