1. Do you think the criminal justice system “works” in the United States? Why or Why Not?
The criminal justice system in the United States does not seem to be working, as it should. The system has a history of racism and bipartisanship that is still present in the courts and police today. The purpose of the criminal justice system is to mete out justice fairly across the country, ensure the guilty pay for their crimes, and reform the criminals so that they can return to society and become productive citizens. However, what we see is constant discrimination against the low-income minority by the entire criminal justice system.
The extremely high levels of incarceration of black and Hispanic young men and women demonstrate the prejudice that has engulfed the criminal justice system. Majority of the individuals in American jails are people of color yet Blacks and Latinos only form about a quarter of the American population. America has the highest prison population in the world yet majority of these prisoners are from the country’s minority population. What is evidenced here is the perpetual disenfranchisement of minorities in America being perpetuated by the criminal justice system, a system that was designed to serve and protect every American citizen regardless of race or socio-economic background.
The system is also not working when we see harsher sentences being meted out to people of color while Whites get shorter sentences for the same crimes. Several studies and reports conducted on the American criminal justice system show that people of color spend the same amount of time in prison for drug related offenses as Whites do for violent offenses. Clearly, this is discrimination against the people of color and it demonstrates how the criminal justice system is playing favorites with its prison population.
Another way that the criminal justice system is failing in its prerogative is the fact that it seems to be no longer concerned with rehabilitation of inmates so that they can be productive members of the society when they get out. The criminal justice system is designed in a way that even when an inmate serves his time and gets out, he will definitely be back as a citizen of the state. Ex-offender laws deny former convicts especially the minorities the opportunities to vote, make a decent living, and find appropriate housing. Frustrated, the former convicts usually return to their life of crime to fend for themselves and their families and before long, they are back in prison. The prisons hardly attempt to give the prisoners contemporary life skills that they can use to survive when they finally get out.
2. Do you think the news media is obligated to present a balanced picture of the overall crime problem and reduce their presentation of sensational crimes? Why or why not?
The media is obligated to present a balanced picture of the overall crime problem in the country and reduce their excessive coverage of sensational crimes. The media is often the only source of information on crime for most American households and thus should present stories that reflect the actual crime situation. Unfortunately, most Americans are inundated with sensational crime stories from the media fraternity. The media often reports on crimes that are more sensational than the crimes that are routinely being committed across the nation. By doing this, the media houses are misrepresenting the actual state of criminal activities across the country and causing public anxiety and fear.
The media seems to only focus on the most bizarre crimes, those that involve a lot of mayhem and blood leaving out the other less sensational crimes that happen on a regular basis. The result of the excessive media coverage of sensational criminal activity has a numbing effect on the American populace. Americans believe that these excessive crimes happen on a daily basis, which is contrary to reality. Thus, the public perception of crime in the country is misconstrued due to the excessive coverage of sensational crimes by the media houses.
Constant exposure to these sensationalized crime stories greatly increases people’s fear of crimes and criminal activity. People react to this increased fear of crime by taking more precautions that include arming themselves, isolating others who they believe could be potential criminals, and distrusting members of their communities. All this contribute to friction within the society, which could have disastrous effect including an increase in accidental murders
The media should also be aware of the fact that its reporting of crimes has an effect on how the public perceives police effectiveness. Constant reporting on sensational crimes that paint a bad light on the police often reduces the confidence the public has in the police. The result is that citizens are less likely to report suspicious activities or people because they do not believe the police are effective enough to handle the situation. In addition, this lack of confidence in the police and the entire criminal justice system may also prompt some private citizens to take things into their own hands, which could have disastrous effects for all of those that are involved.
It is thus imperative that the media present a balanced picture of the crime in the country to avoid negatively affecting the situation.
3. Do you think that other institutions such as the family, schools, and organized religion are
better institutions of social control than the criminal justice system? If so, which ones? Why?
Organized religion, family, schools, and the criminal justice system are all forms of social control in the country. Their primary purpose of these institutions is to encourage people to follow the dominant values of the society. This is done through subtle and less subtle means all engineered to persuade individuals to follow the prescribed rules of the society.
In my opinion, despite the fact that all these institutions are essential in maintaining social control in the American society, family, organized religion, and schools are better institutions of social control than the criminal justice system. The family, organized religion and the schools offer the subtle ways of encouraging people to follow societal rules. They are the primary sources of social control for all individuals and they shape the perceptions that individuals have about following societal rules and upholding societal values. The institutions are expected to instill discipline and respect for the society in the individuals within their structures. They expect individuals to abide and conform to a wide-range of societal values shaping these individuals all round. All-rounded individuals are what make the society cohesive and progressive.
The criminal justice system is usually the last resort when all these other institutions have failed to convince an individual to abide by the societal rules and values. Its role is curtailed to only persuade people to follow a limited set of dominant societal values, whose disobedience constitutes a criminal offense. Thus, the criminal justice system is only interested in making sure that people abide by the laws of the nation. It is not interested in whether people are following other conventional societal rules created by religious organizations among others. It is also not interested in shaping individuals all-round to make them better citizens in the society.
4. Discuss the many ways in which the real image of crime and the criminal justice system is distorted. Why is it important for community members to care about how our criminal justice system works and the realities of crime?
The image of crime and the criminal justice system is heavily distorted in the American public. Studies have shown that majority of the public’s understanding of criminal activities in the country and the criminal justice system is based on myths. The main reason for this distortion is the way the media portrays both crimes and criminal justice system.
The media often reports on sensational crime stories that distort the public’s perception of crime in the country. The excessive coverage of these sensational stories creates fear and panic among the members of the public. They are in constant fear that what happened to someone they saw on television will also happen to them. This distorted view is far from the reality of the situation whereby such crimes do not happen as regularly as the media tries to insinuate.
Most criminal television shows that are purposefully for entertainment viewing also distort how the public perceives crime and the criminal justice system. They depict that the criminal justice process is quick and almost instantaneous. In reality, the process of investigating a crime, finding, and apprehending the criminal, as well as sentencing the suspect can take months or even years. When people who have this distorted view of the criminal justice system actually encounter the reality, they may feel frustrated at the length of time the process actually takes. Frustration often leads to bitterness and a lack of trust in the police and the judicial system. Lack of trust between the system and the people will make it hard for law enforcement to carry out its mandate.
It is imperative for community members to care about and understand how the criminal justice system works as well as the realities of crime. A distorted public perception of these two concepts can reduce the effectiveness of criminal justice system to reduce crimes. People with distorted views on the system are less likely to report crimes or suspicious activities and are less likely to supply information on criminal activities to the police. Furthermore, the distorted imagery of crimes and the justice system results in the increased expenditure of the government to battle crime in the country.
5. What happens when criminals return to their communities? How can we change the system to make the transition back to our society more successful? Do you think the current way of incarcerating people keeps us safe, if so how? If not, why not?
In most instances, when prisoners return to their communities they face isolation from the community members. They are regarded as still dangerous even though they have already paid for their crimes. Companies are unwilling to employ individuals with a criminal record, which means that the chances of legal economic empowerment for former criminals are scarce. Furthermore, in many states there are laws that prohibit former convicts from voting, which denies these individuals their human right to vote for their representatives. Finding suitable housing is another challenge for the former criminals as most property owners refuse to allow them to become tenants of their property. All these factors contribute significantly to the high levels of recidivism in the country.
We need to change how the system works to make the transition from jail to the society easier for the former criminals. One way of doing so is positively rehabilitating these individuals to ensure that when they get out they conform to societal rules. They also need to be taught skills that can help them find credible jobs when their time in jail is over. Furthermore, the rules on housing and employment for former inmates need to be scraped. These individuals need access to better housing and credible employment once they are out of jail. Companies and property owners who discriminate against former inmates should be prosecuted or reprimanded because these individuals also need a fair shot at surviving in the world.
I do not believe that the current way of incarcerating people keeps us safe from the criminals. Locking people away from the society only creates mistrust between the prisoners and the members of the public. Feelings of isolation and abandonment can negatively impact the psyche of the inmates and they often end up with feelings of resentment towards the society. Many of the inmates become hardened throughout their incarceration and when they are finally released, they find it hard to rejoin the community, which puts the rest of us at risk when they opt to commit crimes again.
6. What improvements do you think should be made to the criminal justice system?
The main improvement that should be made in the criminal justice system is the shifting of funding from the prosecution of drug-related offenses to drug demand-reduction measures. The excessive funding used up by prosecution of drug related offenses has resulted in mass incarceration of individuals who have committed non-violent crimes. The result is an ever-increasing prison population that is mostly minority groups, and the spending of billions of taxpayer’s money in the upkeep of these prisoners. The criminal justice system should focus more on preventative rather than reactive measures of curbing the drug menace in the country.
The criminal justice system should also focus on alternative means of criminal sanction rather than relying too heavily on incarceration. The over-reliance on incarceration has resulted in the ballooning of the prison population. Many of the people in the prison system are non-violent offenders. Instead of incarceration, these individuals need to be punished through alternative means that include community service, intermittent confinement, probation, and house arrest. These alternatives will reduce prison population, expenditure used for the upkeep of prison populations, and the rates of recidivism in the country. The alternative criminal sanctions will also ensure that the non-violent offenders continue to be productive members of society and reform their ways.
Another improvement would be the repeal of all the statutory mandatory minimum sentences that came into existence during the crack cocaine epidemic in the 1980s. However, studies and reports indicate that these mandatory prison sentences are not the most cost-effective strategy of ensuring public safety and have not proven to be more effective than the sentences that are individualized and proportionate to the crime committed. There is also a substantial amount of empirical data that shows that these mandatory minimum sentences disproportionately affect members of minority groups. Furthermore, these sentences have not had a significant nor convincing impact on illegal drug trade.
Repealing the statutory mandatory minimum sentences can go a long way in reducing the recidivism rate among drug-related offenders. Community-based alternatives can help transform the offenders into productive members of the society, without the need for them to serve mandatory sentences. In addition, these alternatives can significantly reduce the number of people incarcerated in our prison systems.
7. Do you think more money needs to be spent on criminal justice? Why or why not? Discuss historically the results of dumping more money into the system and also discuss ways in which money can be channeled to implement changes that have proven effective.
In my opinion, an enormous amount of money is spent on the American criminal justice system every year. I do not believe that more money needs to be pumped into the criminal justice system because the egregious spending has already proven ineffective in reducing crime and promoting the safety of the public. Most of the money goes into corrections spending in most of the states all this has done is contribute to overpopulation in our prisons and the wastage of trillions of dollars of taxpayers’ money on construction and maintenance of prisons, hiring of prison workers, and upkeep of prisoners.
It is obvious that the dumping of more money has only resulted in the ballooning of the prison population over the course of history. Sadly, majority of the funds spent are used to prosecute and incarcerate members of minority groups resulting in their perpetual economic, social, and political disenfranchisement.
What should be done is the state governments should channel the money received into alternative preventative strategies and criminal sanctions. More money should be spent in educating youth especially those from minority groups. The education will equip them with the skills they need to access gainful employment, significantly reducing the chances that such youth will engage in criminal activities. States should even go out of their way to ensure that the youth prone to criminal activities have the opportunities to receive higher education at their disposals. When the money spent on corrections is channeled towards prevention through education then the cost of law enforcement to the state government will be significantly reduced.
Furthermore, criminal sanctions that act as alternatives to incarceration have proved to be more cost-effective than incarceration. State governments can reduce incarceration rates without impacting on public safety by restructuring the sentencing regulations. For instance, they can reduce felonies to misdemeanors and punish these offenders through community services or restituting the victims of their crimes.
Thus, there is no need to increase spending on the criminal justice system. The agencies within the criminal justice system simply need to channel their funds to preventative rather than reactive correctional measures as well as spending more money on rehabilitating youthful offenders.