What is Criminal Justice?
Criminal justice is a broad term that refers to the procedures and government organizations which focus on upholding the law. These government entities work to maintain control in the public arena, prevent and manage crime, authorize punishment for criminal activities, and offer rehabilitation.
The criminal justice system in this country is comprised of three primary divisions of law:
- Law enforcement -are police officers and federal agents from different governmental branches.
- Court System - local, state and federal courts.
- Corrections - deal with prison, jail, parole and probation.
All three divisions of the criminal justice system are designed to operate within the confines of the law.
When someone breaks the law, their first contact with the criminal justice system is usually a police officer. They investigate the crime and make an arrest based on eyewitness accounts as well as evidence collected and processed by forensic scientists or crime scene investigators in a lab or clinical setting. There are various levels of law enforcement from local, county and state police in addition to federal police such as FBI agents, CIA agents, U.S. Marshals and more.
The courts operate as a place where disputes are heard by a panel of peers, called a jury, in addition to a presiding judge who maintains order in the courtroom. The judge uses his or her knowledge of the law to ensure that both prosecuting and defense attorneys follow and correctly uphold the laws outlined in the criminal justice system. All accused parties are assumed innocent until proven guilty.
The prosecuting attorney works to prove the guilt of the accused party while the defense attorney's job is to prove reasonable doubt since the accused is deemed innocent until proven guilty. Eyewitness testimony and evidence collected at the crime scene is introduced to the court and used to prove guilt or innocence. It is up to the jury to decide, based on the evidence only, whether someone is guilty or innocent. A court reporter is always present to capture the action of both sides of the courtroom drama. Sometimes, depending on the crime and type of court, the judge makes the final decision on the legal outcome of a court case.
Jail and prison are two facets of the corrections branch of the criminal justice system, in addition to parole and probation. Under the corrections branch, punishment is administered to the person who committed a crime. Jail is a place where offenders are held in confinement for the short term, this typically can be found at local and county levels. Prison confines offenders for longer periods of time and are often run by state or federal government.
The severity of the crime typically dictates the length of incarceration of the offender. And if that offender does not cause any trouble while incarcerated, and presents remorse and positive, rehabilitative behavior, they may be released early on parole. In parole situations within the criminal justice system, the released offender typically must meet with a parole officer who monitors the parolee's behavior, re-integration into society, job hunting and other issues for a certain length of time.
Probation is another facet of the corrections branch. If an offender gets probation, this is a lawful sanction which limits their behavior and opportunities to commit new crimes. Jail or prison time is not involved unless probation is broken.
The bottom line is the system of criminal justice works to uphold the law and give every citizen equal rights as well as a right to legal representation. Within the three main branches of criminal justice, there are many job options for protecting and upholding the law, whether you are in the front lines as a police officer or behind the scenes as a paralegal researching legal precedent for the prosecution or defense of cases.
Schools Offering Criminal Justice Studies Courses:
- A.A. in Criminal Justice
- BS in Criminal Justice
- BS in Justice Studies
- MA in Criminal Justice
- Criminal Justice (Associate's)
- Criminal Justice (Bachelor's)
- Criminal Justice (Master's)
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- Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice
- Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice: Human Services
- Master of Science in Criminal Justice
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- BA/Organizational Management - Criminal Justice
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- BA/Social Science - Criminal Justice
- Criminal Justice, BA
- Criminal Justice, MA (Online Only)
- Homeland Security, BA (Online)
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- M.S. in Criminal Justice Leadership & Executive Management - General Program
- B.S. in Human Services - Criminal Justice
- Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration - Criminal Justice
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