Why do we (as a society) need a criminal justice system? Everyday, society is the respondent to rules and procedures that shape the way we interact with one another. Perhaps the most defining rules and procedures are those that deal with criminality and criminal justice. This paper will firstly look at the goals of the criminal justice system and how the criminal justice system tries to achieve them. Secondly, this essay will examine how the criminal justice system functions and whether this is effective in achieving the goals it sets out.
Perhaps the most obvious goal of the criminal justice system is to respond to crime. This goal is fulfilled through the apprehension of those who perpetrate crimes, and the subsequent punishment of these offenders. However, when looking at the full scope of the functions of the criminal justice system, it further aims to prevent crime and promote personal and community safety (Pink, 2007). In summary, the basic function of the criminal justice system is social control (Bryett, Crasswell, Harrison, Arch, & Shaw, 1993).
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Social controls dictate what behaviours are acceptable in society, so as to ensure the best interests of society as a whole are maintained (Bryette, et. al. , 1993). While the criminal justice system is not the only form of social control, it is perhaps the most obvious formal control. The government criminalizes activities and behaviours that are deemed to be harmful to society. This government then gives the criminal justice system the power and resources to enforce these laws and punish those who do not conform (Bryett, et al. , 1993).
This formal control is used to reinforce informal social controls such as family, education, peers and mass media: which, on their own are generally quite effective social controls. However, informal controls alone cannot be relied upon to enforce criminal justice processes, therefore the state imposes the powers of the criminal justice system to regulate society. The Australian criminal justice system is based on the belief that all people are treated equally in the eyes of the law. Concepts such as separation of powers, judicial precedent and fair procedures are key to the Australian riminal justice system (http://www. dfat. gov. au/facts/legal-systems. html). In Australia, each state and territory governs its own set of criminal laws, enforcement, adjudicative and correctional systems (Earle, Sarre, & Tomaino, 1999), with the federal government making laws on trade and commerce, taxation, defense, external affairs, and immigration and citizenship (http://www. dfat. gov. au/facts/legal-systems. html). While there are some central legal themes, this arrangement leads to differing definitions of offences and appropriate sentencing (Earle, Sarre, & Tomaino, 1999).
Each of these state and federal governments are comprised of 3 separate branches of government: legislative, executive and judicial. The legislative arm of the government makes laws, while the executive government administers the laws, and the judiciary independently interprets these laws and applies them (http://www. dfat. gov. au/facts/legal-systems. html). This concept is known as the separation of powers, and was employed to prevent one group having the power to be judge, jury and executioner in the criminal justice process (Hayes & Prenzler, 2009).
The criminal justice system is also made up of three core elements: police, courts and corrections. Police are the first response in the criminal justice system and are responsible for crime prevention and detection, maintaining public order and providing emergency assistance. They are also responsible for apprehending suspects to be processed through the next phase of the criminal justice system, the courts (Hayes & Prenzler, 2009). It is the role of the criminal courts to adjudicate cases brought before them.
It is here that the guilt or innocence of the defendant is determined (Pink, 2007). If guilt is found, the defendant is moved on to the corrective services, which administers the sentence brought down by the court. This can result in being taken into custody, community work, or rehabilitation (Pink, 2007). While these three systems are connected to each other, they also have their own agendas, leading many to query the phrase ‘criminal justice system’ (Daly, 2006). Daly (2006) describes an accurate definition for the term ‘system’ as a collection of interdependent agencies’, each having its’ own function. Prenzler & Sarre (2009) note that the current criminal justice system shows very little systematic or authoritative co-ordination between the various agencies. This is mainly due to the fact that these agencies have differing aims. For example, the police perform necessary duties to capture and detain suspects, while the courts work to protect the rights of the defendant, in some cases going so far as to discredit the police if they fail to follow correct procedures (Daly, 2006).
These differences sometimes lead to what is seen to be lenient sentencing, and can reduce public confidence in the criminal justice system (Hayes & Prenzler, 2009). However, while some people may believe that the components of the criminal justice system as we know it are contradictory and in some cases inefficient, the alternative would not protect people from the abuses of state power (Daly, 2006) through corruption, bias and a monopoly of power.
As stated earlier, the aim of the criminal justice system is to prevent crime, respond to crime, punish crime and protect the community in a fair and just manor to all people. While the phrase ‘criminal justice system’ may cause debate about its accuracy in defining the criminal justice process that Australia adheres to, the concept of the criminal justice system is important to achieving the goals that it has set out. In fact, the same notion that encourages people to report that the criminal justice system is not a system, is the very notion that allows the criminal justice system carry out its’ objectives.
The criminal justice system as we know it is a strong formal social control and, in conjunction with informal social controls, is essential to provide a moral and democratic society. References Australian Government: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. (2011). About Australia. Retrieved 20 December 2011 from http://www. dfat. gov. au/facts/legal_systems. html Bryett, K. , Crasswell, E. , Harrison, Arch, & Shaw, J. (1993). An Introduction to Policing: Vol 1: Criminal Justice in Australia. Sydney: Butterworths. Daly, K. , Isreal, M. , & Goldsmith, A.
J. (2006). Crime and Justice: A Guide to Criminology (3rd Ed. ). Sydney: Lawbook Co. Prenzler, T. & Sarre, R. (2009). The Criminal Justice System. In H. Hayes. , & T. Prenzler. (Ed. ). (2009). An Introduction to Crime and Criminology (2nd Ed. ). New South Wales: Pearson Education Australia. Pink, B. (2007). National Criminal Justice Statistical Framework. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics. Sarre, R. , & Tomaino, J. A. (1999). Exploring Criminal Justice: Contemporary Australian Themes. Adelaide: South Australian Institute of Justice Studies.