The United States criminal justice system consists of a three-pronged model–with a section to address each equally important component. Very easily broken down into law enforcement, the courts system, and the corrections system, this seemingly straightforward ideal has many cross-complications–making it not so straightforward after all. Although each have their own individual responsibilities designated to them, the nature of the system also makes them all co-dependant as well.
The branch called and referred to as law enforcement have a vast array of responsibilities, making their jobs important, dangerous, as well as complicated. First of all, they are the first responders in law enforcement. The nature of criminal investigation lends itself to an inherent danger–including the possibility of a fatality. Investigation and arrests are just a part of the job of the law enforcement branch: they have an ethical responsibility to review all evidence available and subsequently press charges when it is appropriate. This gives law enforcement a large breath of discrepancy they must use wisely. With regards to evidence, law enforcement is very much in charge of proper procedure in the chain of custody–so important in a trial.
There are also three levels of law enforcement that must be considered from even the broadest perspective. The Federal level consists of organizations such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Federal law enforcement generally deals with crimes committed across state lines, as well as things such as counterfeiting money. In addition, Federal law enforcement encompasses Postal Inspectors and Customs Workers. There is also the State level law enforcement, which is generally State Trooper, and all other State police proceedings. There is then the local law enforcement–town police officers, sheriffs, in addition to larger scale City Police in places such as Chicago or New York City.
After law enforcement does their job as the proverbial “first-responders”–and decides to press charges against a person or persons–the second part of the Criminal Justice, the courts, are now in control. Perhaps the biggest and most important job of the Courts runs concurrently with their direct jobs–setting precedence for future cases. The evidence collected by law enforcement is scrutinized by the court system as it is presented in an adversarial manner. Judges ensure there is no tainted evidence, and the trial remains as impartial as possible. Either a judge, a panel of judges, or a jury makes the determination on whether the party is guilty or not. The judge is directly in charge of sentencing for people convicted as well. There are municipal, county, state, and federal courts depending on the crime.
The US Corrections system, in charge of incarceration and supposedly rehabilitation of convicted criminals, is in shambles. Repeat offenders are the norm now–resulting in things such as New York’s three-strike law. Unfortunately, this has resulted in overcrowding–just one of the reasons most prisoners are never rehabilitated, but rather cycle from prison to prison. Subsequently, the Corrections system is what intrigues me the most as well.
The United States, as stated, has large problems in their penal system. Racism is rampant in the parole system, and first the sentencing–and again, people are not rehabilitated as much as they are simply thrown into “time-out” for an amount of time. In many circumstances jails and prisons are so over-run with criminal activity that organized crime is the true authority. This gang life proliferates the vicious cycle these people fall into.
I see myself fitting into the penal system as a social worker–to truly try to get to the roots of what drove these men and women to do what they did, so they can better understand themselves. In addition, a place such as prison requires constant support. This information, I believe, will lower repeating offender rates.