Criminal justice in the United States of America has certainly been through some of its more tumultuous times in recent years. With violent crime on the rise, finger pointers have found a new prey, the media. Through viewing graphic images from the media, some experts have argued, individuals are more likely to become violent. In a slight reversal of logic, the general public has also sought to utilize the media in apprehending fugitives. Maintaining a theme of crime, police brutality has caused some to question the methods of police officers throughout the United States. Once the police officer does arrest the individual, though, emotions are still high over the employment of the death penalty in capital cases. For women, though, the punishment has been argued to be biased and not fit the crime. After the conviction and sentencing, the general public has yet to decide on whether privately-owned prison systems can manage criminals more efficiently and effectively. If prisons are not enough, then Americans will certainly be debating the Patriot Act’s possible infringement of civil liberties. Finally, criminal justice in the United States is grossly ill-prepared for acts of terror and national emergencies.
Violence and crime in the United States are both on the rise and the decline, depending on who you believe. There is only one certain; violence does and always will, without a doubt, exist. The causes of violence and crime are just as sketchy as the evidence about the aforementioned rises and falls. In other words, there are entirely too many variables to consider when placing the blame. Therefore, to claim that the media causes violence and crime presents a few issues. To cause anything, the media would need to produce an effect or consequence. Secondly, violence and crime were rampant throughout the United States long before the proliferation of today’s media. Finally, statistical reports continually fail to account for any other variables. (Browne & Hamilton-Giachritsis, 2005).
Nevertheless, the general public has been conditioned to believe there is a tangible link between images in the media and criminal violence. Scientific studies have shown numerous associations between media images and aggressive behavior. Still, these studies have been unable to produce anything but a questionable relationship between aggression and criminal violence. (Browne & Hamilton-Giachritsis, 2005). Working against the opposition has been the fact that their scientific reports have failed to account for other critical variables, such as criminal history and social environment. Simply put, there are no scientifically proven consequences of watching violent images in the media and committing crimes. Even more convincing, history has proven this argument. For example, the political gangs of 19th century New York certainly did not have the graphic media exposure of today. Remarkably, the gangs are known for their violent protests, which included burning buildings and, at times, beating rival gang members to death. For all of these reasons, thankfully, the connection between images in the media and violent crime has not affected the criminal justice policy to the extent that Americans allow it to be used as an excuse.
Equally important, the formation of criminal justice policy requires that a change be made to the laws of the United States. Moral panics, however, do not have this same requirement, although they can oftentimes be even more influential. The media’s influence on both is so profound that few, care to, comment on the issue out of fear that grave changes would certainly be made. This influence has become so widespread that media personnel now abuse the situation to gain certain inside information or for political power. (Gertner, 2007). The inside information and political power can be used to affect policy. As such, the media maintains control over that political entity and causes the unique system of checks and balances within the United States government to account for another seat at the table. When media outlets can affect change due to their political, not criminal, nature and popular opinion can sway criminal case decision, the criminal justice policy has failed its citizens.
Moreover, opponents must realize the link between both moral waves of panic and criminal justice policy can be brought into a serious debate. As constituents, the general public can influence political decision-making to the point that criminal justice policy could be not only reinterpreted, which it has in the past but rewritten. Although some justices and policymakers might be pointed, those that appoint them are elected and as such must follow the terms of their constituents. Otherwise, the political leaders are searching for new careers. Since the media has already been shown to influence the constituents, their link to the justice policy is just as clear. If the case of Columbine is not convincing enough, then the rioting and Los Angeles Police Department issues following the Rodney King arrest should.
Furthermore, police brutality is commonly known as the use of excessive force once an individual is in the process of being placed into custody. Police brutality has been argued to be on the rise. This escalation, though, is commensurate with that of criminal activity. Police officers must work under the most adverse of circumstances. Citizens ask them to do so for extended work hours and for what most consider little pay, given their environment. Police officers must always take this environment into account for their livelihood. When taking individuals into custody, it cannot be determined what state of mind these individuals would be in. Given a criminal background, they are even more apt to harm innocent civilians or officers in an attempt to flee arrest. Compound that factor with drug or alcohol usage, possibly simultaneously, and officers would have trouble controlling the criminals. Besides obvious physical limitations that some or even groups of, officers, experience, the aforementioned situations only escalate the issue of excessive force. Finally, individuals who brandish a weapon fall into a different category altogether, especially if that weapon is a firearm or explosive device. Kinnaird (2007) explains, “Police departments allow the use of one level of force above that of the individual being placed into custody.” Logical individuals would agree with these statements as a basis for a police officer’s response.
However, they would say that it is when they beat them too much that it becomes a problem. There are many problems associated with making a blanket statement such as this. First, no one entity decides the standard for right and wrong in the United States and everything can be skewed. This is especially true given today’s influence of the media, as explained earlier. Secondly, many social variables play critical roles in high-profile eases. Imagine if the officers implicated in the Rodney King beating had been Hispanic females. Lastly, although police officers are given special training to accompany certain responsibilities, they remain as human as any other individual. Perhaps, role reversals would allow the chance for those with such a stark criticism of police brutality to gain experiences from that environment before making inferences about the attitudes and actions of police officers.
Furthermore, that criminal environment could shape other attitudes, such as abolishing the death penalty. The death penalty is the usage of electrocution or chemical injection to induce death as a punishment for crimes carrying a capital sentence. Once a criminal has been convicted of a capital crime and sentenced to death, there is an appeals process. Oftentimes, this process can take up to 30 years. (Iyengar, 2008). The appeals procedure, unless privately funded, is provided by public tax dollars as part of the judicial process. There is an extended burden placed on the family members of victims as they seek closure on the situation. What is more, many others feel that standards for justice need to be met. Individuals all have innate levels of justice. Justice is one of the founding concepts on which the United States was founded. The current system of prolonged hiatus simply does not serve the citizens and, most importantly, the victims’ families. Therefore, appeals processes should be shortened and the justice system should find much more efficient ways to carry out the death penalty process.
Conversely, opponents to the death penalty refer to the harsh brutality and the lack of a crime deterrent for reasons against this form of punishment. However, the current issue is not deterrence, but retribution. As retribution, the death penalty does its job just fine. Families get a sense of closure and the general public gets a sense of justice; thus every party is satisfied, that need be. The harsh brutality of the death penalty is no more or less worse than the crime committed by these same individuals. Amazingly, the critics do not complain when the justice system arrests the criminal or when the criminal is sentenced, just when the sentence is the death penalty. Yet, all three of those are processes of judgment. Thus, by the critics’ logic, there should be no laws or punishment as they are both forms of judgment.
Presently, though, the judgment does exist within the criminal justice system. Recently, this system has come under obstinate criticism for gender bias. Bias is showing a preference, or lack thereof, based on any number of social factors; including gender. The criminal justice system has been seen as both too light on sentencing female criminals and not serious enough in handling violence against women. Both of these issues have the same common theme and that is the fact that women are viewed as weak by the criminal justice system. Neil (2001) states, “As an offender, women are considered less apt to commit violence or to have a more viable motive.” Also, the image of a woman as a mother has a profound influence in many sentencing phases. On the other hand, women, as victims, are met with accusations as to their behavior or disposition and whether that might have encouraged the criminal activity. (Neil, 2001).
Alternatively, critics believe that women do not face the harsher sentencing, because, per capita, they do not comparable levels of violent crimes. (Neil, 2001). Those statistics are based, not on crimes committed, but on convictions handed down. Therefore, to understand the issue at hand, critics must analyze court proceedings to determine the extent of bias in the criminal justice system when applied to female criminals. Female victims, however, suffer a double-edged sword. They must first endure the criminal act itself and then subsequent accusations by the criminal justice system as if the victims somehow provoked the crime. This has especially been the case given teenage females choose to wear clothing that the general public would consider questionable. If a rapist, regardless of past offenses, attacks this female, then she is scrutinized by the criminal justice system for what she decides to wear; instead of the state of mind of the rapist. This is not the solution to bias within the criminal justice system.
In addition to overhauls within the criminal justice system, calls for privatizing the United States prison system have not fallen on deaf ears. The privatization of the American prison system would be a progressive solution to managing the prison problem. By privatizing the prison system, the United States would allow privately owned businesses to maintain the facilities and provide the necessary accommodations for the prisoners. This would be a progressive solution since, currently, taxpayers are growing weary of the constant strain the prison system is on the general budget. Most, if not all, citizens feel that their money could be put to better use. Privately owned prisons have two highly regarded benefits over the existing system. The first has already been discussed. These are the benefits that come to the taxpayer in the form of more tax breaks and community benefits. Secondly, rehabilitation programs for private prison systems could also benefit from the change. Since these companies could afford to hire the specialists needed for this type of environment, the prisoners would have opportunities that they would not have under the present system.
On the contrary, opponents to this system suggest that private businesses would not have the means to control prisoners to the extent they currently are. (Antonuccio & Bailie, 2008). Instead, opponents would have alternative measures, to privatizing prisons, established. However, aside from the previous benefits, private prisons could allocate more funding for prison guard salaries and benefits as well as prisoner work programs. Both of these programs could be instituted at minimal costs to the overall business and, conceivably, could cancel each other out. With an increase in guards’ salaries and training programs, there is no reason to doubt their readiness to handle any situation within the prison. The progressiveness of this concept goes without saying. Antonuccio and Bailie (2008) say it best, “nothing on this scale has been attempted in the United States, to date.” Meanwhile, the American taxpayer waits idly by awaiting the time they can move past the anxiety of the prison system.
However, even more, stressful is the Patriot Act and the argument of whether it infringes on civil liberties. The rudimentary definition of infringing is to violate. Therefore, the argument comes down to whether or not the Patriot Act violates civil liberties. The issue is very much clouded. Some might believe it is a matter of just how much is too much when it comes to violating civil rights. Also, violations are dependent on family history or ethnic origin. One thing is for sure, the design of the Patriot Act was to ensure the safety of the American people following the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks of the World Trade Center in New York City. (Reed, 2007). Instead of arguing the Patriot Act, however, the American people need a better understanding of what it takes to achieve security within a nation. The issue is the fact that Americans do not understand what it takes to maintain security, because for so long they were not bombarded by enemy fire like the rest of the world. The United States had several years under its belt of playing the role of dad, separating the two sons that were constantly fighting. Finally, that role has changed and the American public needs to recognize that.
Notwithstanding any of this, the National Civil Liberties Union (NCLU) has led all opponents to the Patriot Act. In retrospect, the members would not have it any other way. The Patriot Act has been deemed unnecessary use of the executive branch’s power. (Reed, 2007). However, the freedoms that the NCLU’s of the world exercise are provided by the combined fighting forces. All of those men and women serve to secure the United States of America against all enemies. The logistics of warfare state that attacking strategic military and noncombatant targets can disable a force’s means and will to continue fighting. Therefore, to remain secure, which allows the NCLU to continue bellowing on; they require such proposals as the Patriot Act to be created.
Moreover, the Patriot Act was created following an act of terror. Despite this, the United States remains ill-prepared for subsequent acts of terror and national emergencies. In preparation for anything, one would develop a plan of action. In the case of combating terror and making ready for national emergencies, America needs Homeland Security to take the current plan to another level. Homeland Security needs to pull its strategic resources together and align the agencies set to work under its command. In doing so, the plan will be more efficient and effective. Also, Homeland Security must be more careful with the coverage of media that is allowed about security and military gains or losses. Enemy forces are using all available assets to gain strategic knowledge.
In opposition, critics refer to the advances of United States forces and the fact that terrorists are ill-equipped to launch another attack on the scale of September 11, 2001. (Baldwin, Ramaprasad, & Samsa, 2008). What is more, critics point to the reputation of law enforcement and military services working together in past national emergencies as justification for future ventures. However, Hurricane Katrina is one such example of citizens not only preparing for disasters but also ignoring warnings. In the aftermath, issues have been raised as to exactly how to plan for another such occurrence. Honestly, Homeland Security does not want to have an incident anywhere near the effect of Katrina with security issues and acts of terror.
The American criminal justice system has sought to answer many of the public’s concerns. Everything, from media and violent crime to terrorism and privatizing prisons, the leaders within the justice system have plenty to contend with. Furthermore, the general public would greatly serve one another by educating themselves. This is an aside from listening to the popular opinion of the local news station. America has become a country filled with people who forgot what it took to build this country. As such, our lack of national history is not at all shocking. The justice system is the most telling of these entities.
Antonuccio, R., & Bailie, C. (2008). Prisons for Profit: Do the Social and Political Problems Have a Legal Solution? Journal of Corporation Law, 33(2), 577-593.
Baldwin, T. E., Ramaprasad, A., & Samsa, M. E. (2008). Understanding Public Confidence in Government to Prevent Terrorist Attacks. Journal of Homeland Security & Emergency Management, 5(1), 1-18.
Browne, K. D. & Hamilton-Giachritsis, C. L. (2005). The Influence of Violent Media on Children and Adolescents: A Public-Health Approach. Lancet, 365(9460), 702-710.
Gertner, N. (2007). Alternatives to the Carceral State: The Judge’s Role. Social Research, 74(2), 663-667.
Iyengar, R. (2008). Who’s the Fairest in the Land? Comparing Judge and Jury Decisions in Capital Cases. American Law & Economics Association Papers, (41), 1-44.
Kinnaird, B. A. Exploring Liability Profiles: A Proximate Cause Analysis of Police Misconduct: Part II. International Journal of Police Science & Management, 9(3), 201-213.
Neil, M. (2001). Gender Affects Justice. ABA Journal, 87, 77-82.
Reed, D. Examining the Validity of the ACLU’s Claims of Civil Rights Infringements by the USA PATRIOT Act. Homeland Defense Journal, 5(7), 4-6.