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Does the criminal justice system discriminate? Provide support your position with reference to the various components of the process, and give an explanation for either why the system discriminates, or why it appears to discriminate.
Yes, the criminal justice system discriminates. African-American males are overrepresented in every part of the criminal process, though there has been no good evidence to show that they actually engage in criminal behavior at rates that are so grossly disproportionate to the participation rates of the rest of society.
In fact, enough young adult African-American males are incarcerated that it impacts the African-American community by contributing to single parenthood, making it less likely that African-American women will find spouses, and perpetuating a cycle of violence and incarceration.
In addition to racial discrimination, women who kill their spouses receive sentences that are roughly four to five times as long as the sentences that men receive when they kill their spouses. Though the Supreme Court has outlawed the execution of the mentally retarded, the mentally retarded are tremendously represented on death row. Likewise, the mentally ill are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, despite the fact that many of the underlying mental illnesses experienced by these people are not actually linked to an increase in violent or criminal behavior. Finally, the poor are more likely to become involved in the criminal justice system, not only because they are more likely to live in environments that are perceived as violent and dangerous, but also because they and their companions lack the resources to resolve some disputes outside of the criminal justice system. One simply cannot look at the state of today's criminal justice system and suggest that it does not discriminate.
The system discriminates because, at each major point in the criminal justice process, someone has the ability to exercise discretion. In fact, the discrimination starts before the criminal justice system gets involved, because a complainant generally has to complain of a crime before the criminal justice system becomes involved. Take, for example, the issue of loitering teenagers in a neighborhood. In an upscale neighborhood, which would tend to be disproportionately Caucasian, neighbors may fail to report loitering teenagers because they do not see them as a problem. Even if neighborhood youth begin to engage in low-level criminal activity, such as vandalism, because their parents have the financial resources to remedy the problem, it is less likely that victims will feel the need to seek police intervention. However, in poor neighborhoods there is likely to be a higher degree of disorder, which contributes to a feeling of danger, even when crime rates are identical to more orderly neighborhoods. Therefore, those community members are more likely to seek police intervention for relatively harmless behavior like loitering and low-level vandalism. Given that some proportion of teenagers in all neighborhoods engages in drug use, the likelihood is that once the police are involved in a case involving loitering teens, they are likely to uncover evidence of drug possession. Once in that situation, the police have the opportunity to exercise discretion. An officer may be willing to look the other way, if he feels that a suspect has the potential to turn his life around. Determining that potential may be based on a number of factors other than race, including parental involvement in the home, neighborhood, and the resources that a parent can bring to the problem, but all of those factors are, themselves, linked to race. Moreover, the race of the officer will not necessarily alter how he views those factors. If the officer decides to arrest a suspect, the prosecutor then makes charging decisions. A child from a rough neighborhood may be seen as more dangerous than a child from a nice neighborhood, resulting in a decision to try him as an adult, even if the children committed identical crimes. In addition, poor people are more likely to possess drugs like crack, rather than cocaine, and the drug laws actually penalize crack possession differently than possession of the identical amount of cocaine. At trial, indigent defendants, who, simply due to the reality of wealth distribution in the United States, are more likely to be minorities than non-indigent defendants, often have court-appointed attorneys, who tend to be younger and less experienced than privately retained criminal counsel. Judges and jurors bring their own racial, cultural, and sexual biases into the courtroom, which can impact how they view witness credibility and the alleged crime. Literally, all of this discretion could mean that a teenage boy who is sitting on the corner with friends with some recreational drugs in his pocket could face absolutely no interaction with the criminal justice system in one neighborhood, but face a lengthy prison sentence in another neighborhood, and these differences are driven by class and race.
4. What is an open system? How does the nature of criminal justice as "open" influence or explain the operations of criminal justice agencies and the decisions of criminal justice agents? Be sure to give specific examples.
An open system is a system that can interact with its surrounding environment. Therefore, changes in the surrounding environment change the system. Likewise, changes in the system result in changes in the surrounding environment. The surrounding environment includes the material environment, which is composed of raw materials and means of production. For the criminal justice system, the raw materials include laws and offenders. However, the surrounding environment also includes the ideological environment, which contains a society's ideas, philosophies, values, and morals.
One way to comprehend how the nature of an open criminal justice system can influence the operation of that system is to look at how domestic violence has transformed from a family secret to a major criminal issue in just over a quarter of a century. As recently as the early 1980s, most jurisdictions did not have laws specifically addressing the issue of domestic violence. This was not due to apathy on the part of first responders, because police officers were oftentimes acutely aware of the danger in domestic violence situations and may have wished for better tools to help them manage those calls. However, even if police officers charged offenders with assault, these disputes were still seen as a private matter, and the likelihood that those offenders would actually face criminal charges or any sort of punishment was slim, which made officers fear that an arrest would only place the victim in more danger. It is important to understand how pervasive this permissive attitude was. Some episodes of I Love Lucy feature Ricky threatening to spank or spanking Lucy for her crazy antics, and this spanking was not seen as inappropriately violent. On the Honeymooners, one of the main characters routinely threatened to assault his wife, despite the fact that the show depicted them as being in an otherwise loving relationship.
However, a social phenomenon occurred in the last 1970s and early 1980s, the likes of which had not previously been seen in the American criminal justice system. A group of women, mostly composed of former domestic violence victims, decided that something had to change. They began organizing shelters, which gave victims of domestic violence a safe place of refuge. They also began lobbying their lawmakers to change the laws, making domestic violence a specific offense. The changes in the criminal justice system have been both dramatic and swift. Whereas most jurisdictions did not arrest domestic violence offenders in the late 1970s, most jurisdictions have mandatory arrest policies today, which require officers to remove domestic violence offenders from the home if they witness violence or witness evidence that violence occurred, such as bruising or other injuries on a victim. In addition, in the late 1970s, victims had no recourse other than fleeing the family home. Today, almost every jurisdiction offers victims the option of seeking a protective order, which prohibits the offender from coming within a certain distance of the victim. Moreover, in many jurisdictions, the police can seek these protective orders regardless of victim consent, thereby taking the onus of seeking such an order off of the victim. While these initial protective orders are generally of limited duration, victims in all jurisdictions have the ability to seek longer-term orders of protection, which are generally a quasi-criminal, quasi-civil process that require the victim to establish that domestic violence occurred, but do not require the heightened standard of proof that comes with a criminal trial. This grassroots movement has led to an increase in training for the criminal justice community. Almost all police departments have officers who are specifically trained to deal with domestic violence victims, and all of their officers have some type of domestic violence training. Many jurisdictions have specialized prosecutors, who deal solely with domestic violence issues, and they go before judges who are required to have specialized training in the area. The grassroots movement has remained intimately tied to the changes in the law, and…[continue]
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