Capitol Hill

What is the Nature and Purpose of the Criminal Justice System?

Criminal law is an idea, a concept. It is a path and a journey; it is a source and it is an end. Criminal law is many things, and yet it can be summed up with one brief sentence: Criminal law is justice.

There are many facets through which criminal law is used as a tool to protect those who cannot readily protect themselves, gain recompense for wrongs done, and to insure safety to the best of its ability. Separate, yet cohesive divisions within the criminal justice system work tirelessly, trying to create a better tomorrow for those that the system serves the people of the United States of America. The three main components of the criminal justice system are law enforcement, corrections and the courts.

Law Enforcement, the most well-known and public part of the criminal justice system, consists of those willing to go out on the front lines to find and capture those people who are willing to impede our precious system of law and order. It is made up of the various agencies across the nation that are responsible for enforcing local, state, and federal laws. These are agencies like Arizona’s DPS, city Police Departments such as Phoenix PD, county Sheriff’s Offices like MCSO (Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office), the U.S. Forest Service and the FBI. They are tasked with upholding law and order, finding and arresting suspected criminal offenders, and so much more. This is my favorite and in my opinion the most effective part of the criminal justice system. This is the starting point of it all. Every day Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) risk their lives to find criminals and stop them from hurting anyone or committing any more crimes.  LEOs protect not only our way of life, but they also protect the fabric of our society which is our basic need for some semblance of order in this chaotic world. It is comprised of highly motivated people who are willing to put their lives on the line to protect the lives of others.

 The Courts of our nation fall between the Law Enforcement and Corrections stages of the system, deciding if punishment is necessary and what would be the most fitting sentence based on the evidence provided. Courts are where criminal and civil offenders must go to receive judgment and sentencing for their illegal acts. In the case of the criminal, sentencing will take place if found guilty, and that sentence will fit the crime committed. In the case of the civil matter, the plaintiff will sue the defendant, and if found guilty, the defendant will be ordered to pay damages or pay in some way for their actions or negligence. Other than municipal courts, and state courts (at the county seat), there are federal courts. These are the U.S. district courts, the U.S. court of appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Corrections" is the variety of programs, service, facilities, and organizations responsible for the management of people who have been accused or convicted of criminal offenses. That is, corrections consists of everything from prisons, to half-way houses, to parole officers and all other programs and people that deal with or handle convicted criminals. Prison, jail, probation and parole are the most well-known forms of corrections. Other kinds of corrections are intermediate sanctions and community corrections. These can be community service, forfeiture of property gained in criminal activity, restitution, house arrest and electronic monitoring, and boot camp among others. Corrections officers and officials help to protect and serve America’s people by keeping in check those criminals that wish to put their own selfish desires above those of the community at large. This is a brilliant division that houses all hope for rehabilitation of criminals. They put their selves out there, trying to help criminals see that they don’t have to be what they are labeled, but swiftly punishing those who decide to again break the law.

Another part of the criminal justice worth mentioning, though not one of the three main parts, is social workers. Social workers play a big part in the C.J. system, but largely behind the scenes. They help those in need, fight for social justice, and help to rehabilitate criminals to the best of their abilities. It takes a big heart to be a social worker, but also a firm hand.

These are all limbs to the same justice seeking body. Together they work for the betterment of our country, and like them others all across the world fight for law, order, social justice and equality, and rehabilitation of those who seek it.