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The Criminal Justice System: How Effective is it?

Ask ten random individuals what they think about the effectiveness of America’s criminal justice system, and it’s likely that the results will yield ten vastly different opinions. The criminal justice system as an organization exists to uphold social control, deter and mitigate criminal activity, and to penalize and rehabilitate those individuals who violate the laws, while protecting the rights of those who have been accused of crime. However, the effectiveness of the criminal justice system is still a highly debated topic of discussion.

One major criticism of the criminal justice system points out that it is often slow to respond to those in need. Delays in court hearings can be particularly damaging to the victims of traumatic crimes, resulting in further victim suffering as years can often pass before the alleged offender is punished. Additionally, information that is relevant to a case can often become diluted or lost during this waiting period.

Many detractors of the criminal justice system also claim that its actions would be more effective if the primary focus shifted from punishment to prevention. These same critics have also advocated for better budgeting and a more economical use of government funding in helping to carry out the practices of the criminal justice system.

The FBI’s Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report indicated that violent crimes were down 2.5% nationwide and property crime was down 1.6% in 2009. Even in a time of economic recession and joblessness, crime rates have continued to fall. It’s still worth noting that crime rates, especially in violent categories, are generally higher in the United States than in most developed countries.

While much effort has been put into accurately evaluating whether or not the criminal justice system is effective, it is a question that is nearly impossible to gleam a clear-cut and definitive answer from. Reports have shown that some programs are highly effective, some are not, some are promising, and others have not yet been tested adequately to draw any conclusions.

These same reports have also indicated that the effectiveness of the criminal justice system is largely incumbent on whether government funds are directed to urban neighborhoods where youth violence is most heavily concentrated. These findings also indicate that the only way to substantially reduce the national rates of serious crime is to aim for prevention in areas of concentrated poverty, where homicide rates are 20 times that of the national average.

Reports also indicate that a great asset in helping to increase the effectiveness of the criminal justice system is to devote an equal amount of government funding to methods of evaluation, in addition to actual crime prevention.