Society’s View Of Criminal Justice System
Society’s Perception of the Criminal Justice System
Laws exist to maintain order and peace and provide for the safety and well-being of all members of society. Acts that disrupt and threaten this system of order are deemed criminal in nature and are therefore punishable by law. For the most part, Americans understand that our criminal justice system is designed to prevent criminal behavior, punish offenders and make society safer for all. However, there are still those times when the system fails — convictions can be overturned by DNA evidence, those accused may be coerced into confessions, and vulnerable people such as those with mental illness or handicaps may be taken advantage of (Cox, 2013). Such incidents make it difficult to have full trust that the criminal justice system is truly functioning as originally intended.
Perceptions about the criminal justice system begin with perceptions of those in power. Instances of judges and jurors being bribed or being influenced by celebrity create a sense of distrust among the public. Special interest groups, organizations whose members are mobilized and share specific agendas and objectives, are also common factors in cases that may involve civil rights issues and social justice. They are quite powerful and work to gain favor with politicians and legislative officials in order to influence governmental policy (Unnever, Gabbidon, & Higgins, 2011). They use a variety of tactics to push their interests. The fact that external groups or the wealthy would have the power to manipulate the criminal justice system calls into question ethics and impartiality.
For the American people to have faith in the criminal justice system, we have to believe that the edict that everyone is truly innocent until proven guilty is taken seriously. However, what does it say when there are questionable rates of incarceration and lengthy sentences for minorities when compared to similar crimes committed by whites? It seems to be a red flag for injustice and bias. Some feel that in this way the criminal justice system engages in socially sanctioned hatred against those who have been traditionally marginalized in our society — blacks, Latinos, homosexuals, immigrants, and the poor (Hurwitz & Peffley, 2005). Being able to afford a good attorney can mean the difference between a brief sentence and a long one. While public defenders can be appointed, they are often balancing heavy workloads and may not necessarily be able to deliver the same level of representation as a private attorney aligned with a major, respected law firm.
There is also evidence that suggests that the criminal justice system protects its own, such as police officers receiving a slap on the wrist or no punishment at all for serious offenses even in the face of overwhelming evidence. There are those who argue that the criminal justice system has too much power and without the proper checks and balances can exert its own form of justice without probable cause or regard for personal rights.
To believe in the criminal justice system, we have to believe that everyone receives a fair trial and that sentences are comparable across the board. Violent and non-violent offenders should be approached differently and the outcome of criminal cases should not be swayed by money, influence, power, or politics. In addition, the American people might feel more trust in the criminal justice system if there was more emphasis on rehabilitation instead of a mere increase in arrests and imprisonment. This is not always the best way to reduce crime and research has shown it does not necessarily deter criminal behavior. Around 62% former inmates nationwide are arrested again within three years (Unnever, Gabbidon, & Higgins, 2011). Many receive little counseling or coaching so that they can reenter society, make better choices and be productive. With little opportunity, they reoffend.
One method that does hold promise is the notion of restorative justice. When it’s possible to implement it can have a positive impact. It states that every crime is in theory an injury to the community and warrants healing (Cox, 2013). The offender must reenter the community and do good to right his or her wrong. Victim-offender reconciliation is often a factor. It is a little controversial and outside the box, but it is a far more inclusive and transformative approach.
Cox, A. (2013). New visions of social control? Young people’s perceptions of community penalties. Journal of Youth Studies, 16(1), 135-150. doi:10.1080/13676261.2012.697136.
Hurwitz, J., & Peffley, M. (2005). Explaining the Great Racial Divide: Perceptions of Fairness in the U.S. Criminal Justice System. Journal of Politics, 67(3), 762-783. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2508.2005.00338.x.
Unnever, J.D., Gabbidon, S.L., & Higgins, G.E. (2011). The Election of Barack Obama and Perceptions of Criminal Injustice. JQ: Justice Quarterly, 28(1), 23-45. doi:10.1080/07418825.2010.493525.
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