Chapter 1: Criminal Justice Today



Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter, students should:

1. Describe the two most common models that show how society determines which acts are criminal.

2. Define crime.

3. Outline the three levels of law enforcement.

4. List the essential elements of the corrections system.

5. Explain the difference between the formal and informal criminal justice processes.

6. Define ethics and describe the role that they play in discretionary decision making.

7. Contrast the crime control and due process models.

8. List the major issues in criminal justice today.

Lesson Plan

Correlated to PowerPoints

I. What is Crime?

Learning Objective 1: Describe the two most common models that show how society determines which acts are criminal.

Learning Objective 2: Define crime.

A. Determining Criminal Behavior.

1. Consensus Model

a. Assumes that as people gather together to form a society, its members naturally come to a basic agreement regarding shared norms and values

b. Assumes, to a certain extent, that a diverse group of people can have similar morals

2. Conflict Model

c. Assumes that different segments of society, separated by social class, income, age, and race, inevitably have different value systems and shared norms, and are engaged in a constant struggle with one another for control of society

d. What is deemed criminal activity is determined by whichever group happens to be holding power at any given time

B. An Integrated Definition of Crime

1. Considering both the consensus and conflict model constructs a definition

of crime in that it is any action or activity that includes the following:

a. Is punishable under criminal law, as determined by the majority of society, or in some cases, a powerful minority

b. Is considered an offense against society as a whole and is prosecuted by public officials

c. Is punishable by statutorily defined sanctions that bring about a loss of freedom

2. Differences Between Crime and Deviance

d. Deviance is behavior that is considered to go against the norms established by society

e. Deviance is a subjective concept

f. Deviant acts become crimes only when a majority is willing to accept that those acts should be punished

g. Not all crimes are considered particularly deviant

h. Criminal law reflects acts that a society agrees are so unacceptable that steps must be taken to prevent them from occurring

II. The Purpose of the Criminal Justice System

i. Interlocking network of law enforcement, courts and correctional institutions

A. Maintaining Justice

1. Main goal is to provide justice to all members of society

2. All individuals are equal before the law ( fairness

B. Protecting Society

1. Four goals of the modern criminal justice system

a. To protect society from potential future crimes of the most dangerous or “risky” offenders.

b. To determine when an offense has been committed and provide the appropriate punishment for that offense.

c. To rehabilitate those offenders who have been punished so that it is safe to return them to the community.

d. To support crime victims and, to the extent possible, return them to their pre-crime status.

Media Tool

“Is there racial bias in the criminal justice system?”


· A short clip about racial bias in the criminal justice system.

· Discussion: Discuss what fairness means and how race and discrimination undermine fairness. Why are some people saying that the criminal justice system serves to protect the powerful rather than everyone in society?

III. The Structure of the Criminal Justice System

Learning Objective 3: Outline the three levels of law enforcement.

Learning Objective 4: List the essential elements of the corrections system.

Learning Objective 5: Explain the difference between the formal and informal criminal justice processes.

A. The Importance of Federalism

a. Federalism implies that government powers are shared by the national (federal) government and the states

b. Division of powers allows states to create their own police power, enacting whatever laws are necessary

1. Law Enforcement

a. Local Law Enforcement

1. Duties are split between counties and municipalities

2. Chief law enforcement officer of the county is the sheriff

i. Elected post

ii. 2 or 4-year term

3. Bulk of local police officers are employed by municipalities

i. Investigate crimes

ii. Attempt to deter crime

iii. Apprehend criminals

iv. Participate in trial proceedings

v. Charged with “keeping the peace”

b. State Law Enforcement

1. Hawaii is the only state without a state law enforcement agency

2. Two general types of state law enforcement agencies

i. State police

ii. Highway patrols

3. Other state law enforcers include fire marshals and fish, game, and watercraft wardens

c. Federal Law Enforcement

1. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI)

2. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)

3. U.S. Secret Service

4. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF)

2. The Courts

a. Dual court system with two independent judicial systems

1. Federal level

2. State level

b. 52 different court systems

1. One for each of the 50 states

i. Trial courts at local and state levels

ii. Intermediate courts of appeals

iii. State supreme courts

2. One federal court system

i. District courts

ii. Circuit courts of appeals

iii. The United States Supreme Court

3. One court for the District of Columbia system

c. Criminal court work groups are charged with responsibility of determining innocence or guilt of criminal suspects

3. Corrections

a. Offenders may be placed on probation, incarcerated, or transferred to community-based corrections facilities once they have been delegated to the corrections system

1. Probation is the most common correctional treatment allowing the offender to return to the community under supervision

2. Incarceration may include jails or prisons

i. Jails house offenders convicted of minor crimes with relatively short sentences

ii. Prisons house offenders convicted of more serious crimes with longer sentences

3. Community-based corrections include halfway houses, residential centers, and work-release centers

4. The most frequent type of release from jail or prison is parole

B. The Criminal Justice Process

1. Debate about whether or not system functions as a “continuum,” smoothly processing cases

2. The criminal justice process functions as a continuing balance between its formal and informal nature

a. The formal criminal justice process “involves a series of routinized operations whose success is gauged by their tendency to pass the case along to a successful conclusion”

b. In the informal criminal justice process, each step is the result of decisions that must be made by those who work in the system

c. Herbert Packer’s Criminal Justice Process

1. Formal Criminal Justice System

IV. Discretion and Ethics

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