The criminal justice system in the United States, and indeed anywhere in the world, is a governmental tool to ensure the safety and security of the citizens of the country. Certain areas have however been considered in research to steer away from this goal. The public has for example lost a considerable amount of trust in the system as a result of apparent oppressive practices in the system. Furthermore alcohol has been proved to be a problem in many crimes; yet many of the prisoners with drinking problems remain untreated, and crimes are perpetuated as a result. There are also however significant developments within the system, including IT advances, which could help to create an increase in job opportunities in a variety of departments.
Perceived Oppression in the Criminal Justice System
The United States prison system appears to be the icon of years of accumulated oppressive practices against especially African-Americans. Indeed, according to Parenti, the 900% growth of the Justice Department's budget over the last 20 years seems to have mostly been used in order to build an increasing number of prisons. These are used to house an increasing amount of prisoners (currently around 60% of all prisoners) incarcerated for non-violent drug crimes. Furthermore about one out of every three black men in their twenties are under criminal justice control or are sought under warrant.
A further criminal justice problem has arisen as a result of September 11, 2001. Surveillance practices have been increased to include "suspicious" persons, meaning that anyone of Arab or similar Eastern descent is the victim of more often than not invasive surveillance practices. This is a perpetuation of what Parenti calls an "over-policed, surveillance society." Indeed, Arabs have been added to black people as a profile for likely criminal or terrorist activities.
Despite the popular explanation that the prison boom is economically driven, Parenti suggests that the root of this problem should be sought elsewhere. The economic problems associated with prisons seem to substantiate this view. Prisons are not, according to Parenti, profitable in economic terms. The profit derived from the prison system occurs in terms of what Parenti calls the capital and ideology of white supremacy. This is true even in these enlightened times of equal opportunity and an end to human rights abuses. Parenti identifies two specific issues perpetuating the problem of human rights violations within he criminal justice system: the first is creating political obedience, and the second, regulating the price of labor. This is a political legacy brought about from the earliest inceptions of abuse for the sake of the maintained supremacy of colonizers. It is unfortunate that the criminal justice system should be a pawn for the state's abusive policies. The prison system is thus used not so much to protect the public against crime, as is popularly believed, but instead to keep from losing the clandestine policies of oppression still present in the state.
This then culminates in a problem of communication, or rather lack thereof, between the oppressive government, criminal justice organizations and the public. The public is being deceived by means of pro-police and pro-justice maxims that are often less than true. The oppression of Islam and Arab people could be taken as the most recent example of this. Bush's "war" on terrorism has become an oppressive practice criticized by many. In the same way the overstrained prison and criminal justice systems have become tools of oppression rather than tools of fighting crime.
In terms of policing, oppressive practices from the criminal justice system and state in general have also translated themselves into the police force itself. This was especially so during the turbulent 1960's and 1970's, when one's skin color or hairstyle could dictate to the police whether one is liable to criminal activity or not. In many of these cases the "innocent until proven guilty" paradigm is reversed and any black or currently Arab person is guilty until proven otherwise.
The problem here is furthermore not only one of communication, but also one of leadership. At the highest level of leadership, the President tends to advocate oppressive practices to the criminal justice system. The police is thus heavily influenced from governmental officials to adjust their paradigm to one of oppression and racism. Protecting the public thus becomes protecting the public as long as the correct skin color is involved.
Such problems can however be dealt with through correct leadership practices and communication between criminal justice organizations and the public. There has for example been a change in police department hiring practices, in that an increasing amount of women and people of different racial groups have been incorporated in various departments. Furthermore the public has over the last century or so increasingly moved towards the ideal paradigm of a democratic society, where everybody is to receive an equal opportunity to do whatever they wish with their lives.
Community policing is another issue where the public is directly involved in an open communication paradigm with the police. This can be used as an opportunity to keep the public informed of how the police works to provide protection for the public on fair and equal terms. Criminal justice organizations should then liaise with the public in this and similar ways in order to regain what public trust has been lost through the exposition of human rights violations, and further to create a better environment for fighting crime.
These and other issues also relate to the problem of alcohol abuse among prisoners, and the relation of this with criminal activity. The perception of the problem is often that it is less severe than is actually the case, and thus alcohol abuse among prisoners remains untreated, and the criminal activity related to this problem is perpetuated.
Polcin cites a variety of studies finding that alcohol abuse is a significant problem not only among prison inmates, but also among probation officers. In terms of the prison population, it is shown that there is a link between daily alcohol intake and probable criminal activity. Indeed, inmate drinking history is shown to be three times as frequently as that of the general public.
Despite these facts, few individuals within the criminal justice system receive treatment for alcoholism. Indeed, statistics show that only 12% of those with drinking problems in the prison system receive any help. This is a problem for the crime rate in general; as mentioned above, there is a direct correlation between crime and drinking excessively. It is thus in the interest of a successful criminal justice system to prevent, detect and remedy drinking problems within the system.
Polcin states however that detecting those most urgently in need of help is problematic. The reason for this is the context within which drinking problems are detected. Within the prison context for example, persons with alcohol problems are only forced to take rehabilitative measures if their drinking led directly to criminal activity; for example driving while under the influence. In the general social context on the other hand, drinking problems are detected by persons in friendship or family relationships with the person. Thus, prisoners with drinking problems are often not detected, and do not receive the help that they are in need of. Here again, communication between the police and the public can be used for the multiple purposes of helping prisoners, reducing crime and stimulating public trust.
Communication can occur in the form of family members and friends closely connected with newly committed prisoners. These people can be questioned regarding the prisoners and possible alcohol or indeed drug problems, with the aim of providing rehabilitative programs. This will have the effect of reducing crime related to drinking problems, reduce the prison population, and stimulate public trust in terms of the fact that the police will be seen as a positive force trying to prevent crime rather than merely coping with the escalating crime rate. Indeed, according to research cited by Polcin, a reduction of criminal justice costs is evident where rehabilitative programs were used to deal with alcohol and drug abuse problems in prisoners and probationers.
Polcin furthermore suggests that the organizational structure in prison systems could be adjusted in order to encourage more effective coercion practices when obliging prisoners with alcohol and drug problems to enter treatment. Here again intra-organizational communication is important, with training programs to help probation officers in identifying those with problems, and the level of help that is needed.
Alcohol and drug-related problems however do not only affect prisoners and criminals, but also criminal justice officials. The stress and strain associated with the dangers of the job at times tend to drive its workers to excessive drinking or even drug problems. This affects the officers' efficiency in fighting crime, and even at times tempt these officers into becoming criminals themselves.
Here organizational structure and support systems are important. Stress monitoring practices need to be in place, together with programs that officers can join to receive the help they need. Communication and…