History of Criminal Justice System

Subject: Law
Pages: 6
Words: 1483
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: College


The history of criminal justice system began in prehistoric times with simple and jugged law enforcement agencies as well as the judicial systems. As time went by, new forms of judiciary, laws and punishment evolved. Many reforms had taken place especially on the rights of the offenders, criminals and policing. Basically, these have so far developed into what is nowadays known as the modern criminal justice system which consists of the law enforcement agency, the judicial agency, and the correction agency, commonly referred to as the prisons. The probation which handles the imprisonment, apprehension, supervision, sentencing, trial and defense of the alleged criminal offenders was similarly built up from the historical criminal justice system. The changes have so far reflected the developments in cultural values and customs, economic conditions and political ideals that have taken place over time.

In only 3 hours we’ll deliver a custom History of Criminal Justice System essay written 100% from scratch Get help

The developments in criminal justice systems

Ancient times

In ancient times people practiced crude forms of law enforcement. Exiles were the most common forms of punishments especially to the political and state criminal offenders. Other places like ancient China prefecture form of law enforcement were commonly used with sketchy judicial system which is similar to the modern judiciary that oversaw civil administration. The Chinese concept of prefecture system of law enforcement was more progressive and even allowed women to become community or clan prefects. The system later spread to other kingdoms, dynasties and other cultures like Korea and Japan. In ancient Greece and roman empires, justice was prerogative for the victims of crimes. These ancient kingdoms also used other forms of retaliation to prevent the spread of criminal activities. Roman Empire had an efficient law enforcement system though the actual police force was not yet developed. The function was left to clan chiefs and the praetorian guards who protected the cities (Roth, pp.15).

Middle ages

The middle ages saw conflicts resolved through trial by ordeal among the feuding parties. Serious offenses including violent crimes were punished via payments of defined fines to the victims. Criminals who were incapable of paying the fines were subjected to hash corporal punishments including whipping, mutilation, branding, flogging and execution. During these periods the commonly used state administered form of punishment was banishment or exile. A prison such as the Le Stinche was in existence but it was rarely used as correctional institution for criminal offenders. Conversely, incarcerations were not wide spread until the early 19th century. The maintenance of public order especially in the medieval Europe took place through the English Anglo-Saxon system. According to Roth (26), the nobles and local lords in the system were the people responsible for maintaining law and order. The constables, who in most cases were appointed by the nobles, enforced these laws.

Development of criminal justice system during American colonial error

In the colonial America, the criminal justice was similar to that in England. The colonialists maintained the basic idea about the criminal justice system based on English common law system. The common law system had rules and guidelines that were used by the colonialists to settle disputes amongst members of the society. The system primarily relied on the previous rulings made by the judges instead of the written penal code (White, pp.20). The system also differentiated crimes into felonies and misdemeanors. The undertaken legal process for the grave crimes included the grand jury which was ideally comprised of the community senior members who had the ultimate verdict for the prosecutions. Nevertheless, both the public prosecutors and the district attorneys never existed during these proceedings. Actually, the crime victims had the responsibility of initiating the trials and financing the suit. These fundamental principles were used by the colonialists to build a foundation for today’s criminal justice system

Several factors had an influence on the ways in which the colonialists constructed the criminal justice system. Indeed there were no legal experts and resources were unavailable to come up with a better and workable criminal justice system. Besides, the challenges that colonialists met shaped the way the criminal justice system were made. The system was sculptured to cater for the needs of the colonialists. Other factors included vigilantism alongside religion.

During this period, the development of the criminal justice institutions was important. The county sheriff who besides acting as the reactive official of the criminal justice equally collected taxes, supervised elections, and handled many legal businesses in the county. The complaints and relevant information on misconduct were followed up by the sheriff. The courts during this time were simpler and reflected that of England as they were used to reduce tensions and solve conflicts in society. In addition the courts acted as the legislature, judiciary as well as the executive arms of government (Roth, pp.64). In the courts were judges and magistrates who in most cases were political or religious leaders. Their main obligation was to retain order in the society.

The legal process

The legal system has ever since changed. The magistrates and the judges had the obligation of deciding whether an offense had been committed proviso any crime was suspected, and the indicted had to be finally detained. The two parties present during the proceedings had no lawyers acting on their behalf in the colonial epoch. Upon hearing from the accused, the judge or magistrate would determine the necessity of the trial. Also at the trial there were no defense attorneys. In fact the district attorneys who were to act as defense attorneys usually handled prosecutions. The role of the district attorneys was stemmed from the English legal system which restricted the role of the defense that challenged or questioned the narrow sections of the law. Later on, the prosecution permitted for an intense defense for the accused. This involved the use of well trained lawyers and legal experts in the rights of the victims.

Academic experts
We will write a custom Law essay specifically for you for only $16.00 $11/page Learn more

Modern criminal justice system

Siegel (106) asserts that the development of complex modern criminal justice system started with small and unspecialized systems during the colonial times. The initial criminal justice systems had several problems including lack of efficient law enforcement systems, inadequate probation and parole institutions as well as detached children-justice systems. In essence, the systems were seen to be inadequate as regard to the criminal dealings owing to the high level of illegal ruling. Deviance and disorder were the day’s norms. Social problems like gambling, prostitution, drinking, robbery and generally lawlessness were being reported on daily basis.

Lack of law enforcement system prompted the development of what are today the modern police. The current policing notion was first brought forth by the lawful French practitioners and intellectual at the start of 18th century. French first established its police force to be in charge of maintaining law and order in the city of Paris. Policing was not limited to the French. In Germany, the police maintained order and had economic and social duties. The German police was also in charge of demographics and population empowerment. Thus, its functions went beyond the simple law enforcement and even included urban planning, public health and supervision of prices.

After the French revolution the concept of police was widely recognized and replicated in other parts of Europe. The development of police force in Great Britain was much slower than in some parts of Europe. This was because British looked at the word and the concept as a symbol of foreign form of oppression (Hostettler, pp.337). Later development saw British police forces being formed through parliamentary acts, however, they were totally different since the police forces were purely preventive. In fact, the British replica of policing was considered as the modern police force model which was simulated in the commonwealth countries. In the United States and North America, the police force has since developed from mere law enforcement system to information-based system that is capable of mapping and tracking the crime patterns as well as trends (Siegel, pp.138).

Law enforcement in the United States was duly left to local governments and the state until 19th century. The turn of events made the federal governments take several law enforcement responsibilities thereby establishing the department of justice to be responsible for the law enforcement. New facilities such as the penitentiary and women facilities were built and even the control of prisons had to be later transferred to other departments (Siegel, pp.435).


The histories of criminal justice system began in ancient times and have since evolved to what is today a sophisticated and well organized system. The current criminal justice system principally comprise of three major allied agencies which include the law enforcement agencies which is made of the police, the adjudication agency, that is primarily assumed by the courts along with the correctional agencies which is made of jails, prisons, paroles and probations. These distinct agencies work closely together under the rule of law and at the same time are a standard means through which law and order is maintained in the society.


Hostettler, John. A history of criminal justice in England and Wales. Winchester, United Kingdom: Waterside Press, 2009. Print.

Roth, Mitchel, P. Crime and Punishment: A History of the Criminal Justice System. Michigan, USA: Cengage Learning, 2010. Print.

15% OFF Get your very first custom-written academic paper with 15% off Get discount

Siegel, Larry, J. Essentials of Criminal Justice. Michigan, USA: Cengage Learning, 2008. Print.

White Nicholas, J. Decolonization: The British Experience since 1945. London, UK: Longman publishers 1999. Print.