Essay: The criminal justice system

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  • Subject area(s): Criminology essays
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  • The criminal justice system
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The criminal justice system has different roles within it to reduce re-offending, deter crime from happening and to keep the public safe. The debate on whether to punish criminals or rehabilitate them is ongoing; in this essay, we will see which approach is the most effective for society and criminals and the sources and views that support each viewpoint. Retributivism believes that lawbreakers undoubted need to be punished for breaking the law however utilitarian justice wants to punish a criminal whilst punishing them as it has the greatest benefit to society. Punishment described as “The infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution for an offence” (Oxford dictionary) and forms of punishment include community service, fines and prison. In previous year’s punishment was the only option for criminals but the position of the criminal justice system has since evolved. The evolvement of the system now includes methods to try to re-educate and allow offenders to pay back society through schemes like community service, and fines often referred to as community payback. The offender will have a programme put together to target their specific needs, which could include attending training workshops or training schemes, banning them from specific types of events like football matches or pubs, curfews, counselling, and naturally they would be monitored to make sure they comply with the conditions set by the court. Rehabilitation attempts to help criminals through treatment programme for criminals, whereby the criminal justice system does not punish them it predominantly helps them to get peoples life back on track.
The system has various roles that intertwine and work together to deliver one collective outcome; this is “to deliver justice for all by convicting and punishing the guilty and helping them to stop reoffending, while protecting the innocent” (Gardside,2008) the system “encompasses a whole series of stages and decisions”(ashworth pg 75). This highlights how the stance of the Criminal justice system is to both punish and rehabilitate but it is very complex in deciding which is right for each in particular case. The various sections of the criminal justice system need to collectively work together to ensure that they efficiently and effectively bring cases to justice. This will solidify public confidence but also save time and money and ensures the victim feels satisfied. The criminal justice systems top five objectives are; retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation and restoration.

The level of punishment and whether a criminal is put on a rehabilitation programme depends on the seriousness of the crime and the aggravating and mitigating factors. They are crucial on whether deciding if a criminal is punished or rehabilitated or both. Aggravating factors are “factors indicating higher culpability”(sentencing council), which would consider the harm done to the victim, and the lack of remorse or concern for those who witnessed the crime. This was highlighted in the case of Michael Murray who had his sentence lengthened from 15 years to 19 years after raping a mother and kidnapping her son, due to the “threats to the victim and her young son” and “complete absence of mitigation”. In contrast mitigating factors are described as “factors indicating lower culpability” (ibit) and weigh in the defendants favour as the circumstances and factors may reduce the charges or sentencing. An example of this would be an offender feeling genuinely remorseful about their crime or if the perpetrator had a mental illness / disability or even an addiction.

The criminal justice system punishes offenders as it acts as a deterrent to prevent crime from happening Larrabee argued that it helps “instill fear on the offender so that they will not commit a future crime (Larrabee,.2006,p.2). Punishment psychologically should show disapproval for the offender’s wrongdoing. However, punishing criminals can lead to variable outcomes. When offenders are not punished, harshly enough it can lead to re-offending and this is highlighted by 29.6% of offenders (Oct-Dec 2015) reoffending within a year (ministry of justice); these are only the reported numbers, and there may be substantially more, however they succeed in not being caught. It is disturbing to know that “more than 400 freed sex offenders went onto commit rape in the next 3 years” (Furness, 2012). Take for example the notable case of the tragic murder of Ashleigh Hall who was groomed online and murdered by Peter Chapman. Chapman had previously been sentenced for 7 years in 1996 for raping a prostitute at knifepoint however was released after 5 years. This case demonstrates how the criminal justice system failed to punish Chapman harshly enough as he thought he could get away with it and undermined the aim to “protect the innocent”(ibit).

Harsher sentences for criminals effectively protects the public for a longer period however if a sentence is too harsh it is deemed unethical and it may lead to redirected aggression by the prisoner once released. Furthermore, it has been argued that longer prison sentences of just one month really do lead to a decrease in crime. The University of Birmingham produced research that harsher sentences of one month for burglary was ultimately reduced them the following year from “4,800 out of an annual total of 962,700”(Helm and Doward, 2012). This study also demonstrated that if offenders were to serve two-thirds of their sentence instead of half then “it suggests there would be 21,000 fewer burglaries in England”(ibit). In contrast, prison has been described as a “school for crime”(samenow, 2011). It is often said that prisoners boast about the crimes they have committed whilst in prison. By putting criminals in a concentrated environment together it can consequently lead to crime within prison walls, with there being 20,000 prisoners on prisoner attacks in 2016(Ross kemp doc). It has been said that prison is a “expensive way to make bad people worse” (Vanstone,2008, p/64). This builds upon (samehow 2011) argues that they even hatch new schemes and engineer crimes within prison walls; they are called “shot callers” this shows how the criminal justice system is allowing breeding of crime within the walls that it is meant to be preventing it. Although prison is a place where crime should not be committed, it is hard for officers to stop this happening. Drugs are available throughout prison with 1/3 of inmates testing positive for drugs when leaving prison (ross kemp doc). If a person was put in prison for a drug related offence and they are still taking drugs inside it is a complete waste of taxpayer’s money and it is not helping the individual whatsoever. This puts into question that are we punishing certain criminals too harshly and why are they not receiving help that they so desperately need. This highlights how the criminal justice system when punishing criminals, is not punishing them effectively and how our prison system so desperately needs reform to prevent misuse use of drugs within prison walls.

Rehabilitation aims to help offenders by assisting them to return to “normal, law abiding citizen” (Robinson and crow pg2). Theoretically, perceived, as utilitarian; Piper and Easton would argue that it is consequentialist so that an offender contributes to society at the end of their treatment (pg 361) and it offers “a more permanent fix in deterring crime” (Larrabee,2006,p.2). Rehabilitation schemes in the UK aim to help offenders “tackle the problems which fuel there criminal activity” (ministry of justice). Probation, police and local services take an “integrated approach to managing offenders tackle rehabilitation” (MOJ). Mackenzie said that rehabilitation operates effectively where there is “substantial meaningful contact between treatment officers and where programmes use behavioural methods to develop skills.” (ashworth) This approach supports the ministry of justice’ principle of de-centralisation so local areas are predominantly responsible identifying key offenders whom need help. This approach is extremely personalised and it allows local areas to collate and develop ideas that have proven successful. One success story of a prolific repeat offender who had been sentenced 60 times for some 280 offences (mainly burglary) which were committed to mainly fund a drug habit can be rehabilitated(ministry of justice). The offender was brought under the “integrated offender management approach” (Ibit) and had to confront the damage he had committed to his victims, while enrolled with drug treatment which ultimately led to him coming off his dependence of illegal drugs and not reoffending (MOJ)

The rehabilitation programme “Impact” works with statutory, voluntary and community organisations “to ensure a holistic approach to supporting individuals”(Impact). The programme has been a key factor in halving serious acquisitive crime from 16,000 in 2008 to 8,000 in 2011/2012. This demonstrates how the criminal justice system should aim to offer rehabilitation as an alternative to prison. In this case, prison quite clearly did not achieve the aim to deter the criminal from re committing crime. Rehabilitation also recognises the reality of social inequity and provides them with personalised help; it allows offenders to see light at the end of the tunnel and helps them understand the devastating effect that they have had on a victim and their family. Secondly, it eliminates them from the re-offending trance they have been stuck in.

However it could be argued that rehabilitation is a soft punishment as the offender may not want to change and by undertaking rehabilitation, they feel like they have gotten away with it. Even though there is the opportunity for restorative justice many victims may not want to do it because it is extremely distressing for them, just like in a rape case where the defendant pleads not guilty but is found guilty it makes the victim relive the trauma again. There is also a strong stigma attached to criminals and they find it hard to reintegrate back into a normalized life and society.

Punishing and rehabilitating prisoners simultaneously can be extremely effective at reducing reoffending rates. This is shown by Bastoy prison in Norway. The governor of the prison; Nilsen said the ethos of the prison was that “the punishment you lose your freedom. If we treat people like animals in prison when they are in prison they are likely to behave like animals. Here we pay attention to you as human beings.” Halen prison is extremely liberal in its approach to inmates; they are given the opportunity to work at the prisons farm, stables, timber site and on the ferry and are educated via the prisons school. They earn £6 a day and are given a monthly allowance to buy their food so they can cook it themselves. This helps prepare prisoners and gives them the necessary skills for when they are released. One inmate who is serving time for committing murder says “Now I have no desire for drugs. When I get out I want to live and have a family. Here I am learning to do that”. This demonstrates that the criminal justice system is working effectively to punish prisoners as “for the victim the offender is in prison. That is justice.” but rehabilitate them at the same time as Bastoy prison only has a 16% re-offending rate.

To conclude there are many views on what the criminal justice system should aim to do. De Luca et al said, “Both punishment and rehabilitation are needed if the problem of crime is to be effectively addressed”. The number of prison places has nearly doubled from 44,000 in 1993 to over 83,000 currently. This demonstrates how punishment solely has not deterred criminals from committing crime. However, the use of rehabilitation and punishment works hand in hand to reduce re-offending. Investing in education and vocational prison programmes “save society 50,000 per inmate”. Speaking with a retired crown court judge, he expressed how he thought community service was successful. It punishes the offender but it also acts as an aid to rehabilitate them via instilling a work ethic and developing skills for employability whilst boosting their self-esteem. It can be said that each criminal needs to be assessed on whether they should be purely rehabilitated or collectively punished and rehabilitated via their records and if there were any aggravating and mitigating factors in the case. Rehabilitation does not work if the person at the time does not want to change, however if they were punished and rehabilitated at the same time it allows them to reflect on their crimes and change for the better. Bastoy prison is an excellent example of utilitarian justice where they punish criminals as they do not have freedom but they do invest in prisoners to better themselves and help them. The results are extremely rewarding with low re-offending rates. If the UK were to adopt the approach there is a very high chance re-offending rates would decrease. This would in turn would decrease the leakage in our economic cycle whereby the government is spending a substantial amount of taxpayer’s money on crime and prisons. it should benefit society by making it safer and by criminals turning their lives around and becoming positive and contributing member of society.

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