What is Criminal Justice?

26 Aug 2015

What is Criminal Justice?

You’ve probably heard people say the term ‘Criminal Justice System.’ Although it’s referenced as a single body at large, the ‘system’ is really just an umbrella term to describe the thousands of agencies operating throughout the United States. The purpose of these 50,000 institutions is to uphold and enforce the law at the city, county, state, and federal levels. It is therefore society’s last line of defense of social control, the primary ones being family, schools, religion and even the media.

The easiest way to remember all the different agencies involved in the Criminal Justice System is to think about the process of an incarcerated criminal suspect.

  • Step One: The suspect is arrested for unlawful activity by the police or other law enforcement agency.
  • Step Two: The suspect is taken into custody. After booking, the suspect may interact with dozens of criminal justice professionals such as a forensic psychologist, a social worker or a corrections officer.
  • Step Three: The suspect then has an initial appearance in court. Dependent on the charges, the suspect will then undergo a plea bargain or trial. This stage involves a judge, attorneys, witnesses,paralegals and sometimes a jury.
  • Step Four: The suspect serves the sentence, or punishment, in a corrections facility at a jail or prison.
  • Step Five: If released from jail, the suspect will likely have to check in with a parole or probation officer.

This process incorporates the two models of the Criminal Justice System: The Due Process Model and the Crime Control Model. Law professor Herbert L. Packer developed the two models in the 1960s in a now-famous article. The Crime Control Model emphasizes punishment and order. In contrast, the Due Process Model emphasizes justice and aims to protect the innocent while convicting the guilty.

Now let’s wrap it up with some numbers. The total money spent on the Criminal Justice System at all government levels is $455 billion, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Let’s break that down even further.

  • Law Enforcement: $104 billion
  • Corrections: $74 billion
  • Judicial Services: $50 billion

The bulk of that money is spent at the state and local levels, although the federal government does have its own law enforcement agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S Marshals Service (USMS), and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

If you’re interested in learning more about the Criminal Justice System click here.

Have any questions? Or want to see a specific blog post on the Criminal Justice System? Reach out and Comment!

photo credit: Bureau Of Justice Statistics

8 Responses

    1. Yes, although the U.S. military has separate organizations to address criminal activity within military ranks, it’s still considered part of the overall criminal justice system at the federal level.

    1. Crime Control Model: This model advocates for fast punishment to protect the greater population and public safety. An example of this would be a police officer arresting someone while they are committing a criminal act, and placing them in jail and away from the public.

      Due Process Model: This model stresses rights for the victim or suspect. An example of this would be the goal of correctional officers to help the convicted while they’re in jail, so they don’t become repeat offenders once released back into society.

  1. Victor Corona

    I’ve never seen the criminal justice system referred to as the last line of defense. Or religion, family and media being lines of defenses. Great point

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