What Is Criminal Justice?

Criminal justice is often used to signify the methods and systems used involving crimes and their punishment within a society. However, this is a fairly simplistic definition, as there is much more involved when seeking a true answer to the question: What is criminal justice?

What Is the Criminal Justice System?

The criminal justice system is made up of various agencies, practices, and series of processes used to prevent and control crime through the use of societal controls, while placing penalties and often rehabilitation on those who violate the laws. According to information provided by The National Center for Victims of Crime, there is more than one criminal justice system in the United States. Different jurisdictions have different regulations and can be as small as city criminal justice systems to federal criminal justice systems, with the most common being those of each state and the federal government.

Components of the Criminal Justice System

There are three major components of the criminal justice system. These include law enforcement, the courts, and corrections. Although each of these individual components has unique key roles to play, they work together for the combined functioning of the criminal justice system.

Law enforcement is typically the most visible part of the criminal justice system and the first contact within this system, helping to prevent crimes from being committed in the first place. When a law is broken, law enforcement is the first to look into the matter, fill out proper reports, and perform investigation into the matter. If necessary, law enforcement will then bring charges and issue citations or make an arrest. Those who break the law will then move to the next component of the criminal justice system.

The courts will determine the guilt or innocence of those suspected of committing crimes and impose punishment upon findings of guilt. Both prosecuting and defense attorneys, judges, and often juries all play specific roles in the court process. Some of the specific duties include:

  • Prosecution gives evidence to the court
  • Defense helps the defendant confront accusers
  • The jury, when used, will determine guilt or innocence
  • The judge oversees the process and imposes sentence

Corrections is the final component of the criminal justice system. If a person is found guilty of a crime, corrections can be used as punishment, for rehabilitation, or a combination of the two. Corrections officers, probation officers, and parole officers are a few of those who work in corrections. They supervise inmates during confinement, oversee the implementation of community control measures outside of a correctional facility, and are responsible for filing various reports and updates, as well as play key roles in the release of offenders from custody or community control.

The criminal justice system is in place to not only protect the public and maintain societal controls, but to give certain rights to those accused of committing crimes, and assistance to victims of crime. By working together, the criminal justice system works to keep society a safer place.