This paper compares and contrasts the criminal justice systems in Britain, Europe and America. It elaborates on salient details of these criminal justice systems, points out similarities and differences between them, and assesses research done and statistical detail in order to determine which of these is the most effective. The term ‘criminal justice system’ is broad and for this paper, the aspects of what makes it up need to be defined more clearly.
According to Coretta Phillips, Gemma Cox and Ken Pease in the World Factbook of Criminal Justice Systems (2006), the following are some details which play a role in criminal justice: Classification of crime, crime statistics, victims and their roles and rights, the police, prosecutorial and judicial processes, the judicial system, penalties and sentencing, and prison. With this knowledge in mind, let’s consider the British criminal justice system. Again citing Phillips, Cox and Pease, crime is classified by the British system in a variety of ways including the following: “Legal classification.
While there are many ways of classifying crimes, they are distinguished by seriousness. Also, offenses may be classified according to the procedure by which a case is brought to trial (in a magistrates’ court only, by indictment, or triable-either-way in a magistrates’ or the higher Crown Court), according to the availability of the sanction of imprisonment, or in terms of the Home Office’s Standard List of serious offenses. “ (Phillips, Cox and Pease, 2006) Consider also age of responsibility. “Children between 10 and 17 are brought before a youth court when charged with a criminal offense.
” (Phillips, Cox and Pease, 2006) The type of crime must be considered too. Is the British criminal justice system a successful one? According to the 2000 British Crime Survey “69% are confident that the system respects the rights of the accused and treats them fairly, 46% are confident that it is effective in bringing people who commit crimes to justice, 34% are confident it deals with cases promptly and efficiently, and 26% are confident it meets the needs of victims”. (Mirlees-Black, 2006). With only 46% confident that it brings criminals to justice, must changes be made?
In “Examining Justice in the UK”, an article by Chris Summers in “Life of Crime”, he raises the following: “Rumblings of discontent with the British criminal justice system began to grow in the 1980s. Campaigns started to spring up around individual cases. The phrase “miscarriage of justice” was crystallized around two big cases – the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four. Both stemmed from IRA outrages against civilian targets at the height of the bombing campaign. ” “Police appeared to have quickly rounded up the suspects and brought them to justice. In reality the wrong men had been convicted.
It was only due to the determination and investigative skills of a TV documentary team and MP Chris Mullin, himself a former journalist, that the injustice suffered by the Birmingham Six came to light. ” This is clearly an injustice and would indicate that something in the system needs to change. But the exclusive test in determining the success of a criminal justice system is in assessing its results. This is what is recorded in history, and even though opinions of the British justice system may not be all that optimistic, statistics show a decrease in overall crimes committed in Britain.
Over the period 2004 – 2005, there were 5,562,691 offences recorded. This represents a fall of 6% over the previous year. Burglary fell by 17%, criminal damage dropped by 2%, fraud and forgery went down by 12%, and vehicle theft went down by 11% (Crimestatistics. org. uk, 2005). This system cannot be seen as unsuccessful. By contrast, how do other criminal justice systems compare? The US Criminal Justice System is made up as follows: Law enforcement (police), courts, and corrections. While the police work towards crime prevention, they are also involved with crime control, and handle cases initially when crime occurs.
The police will conduct a crime investigation; gather evidence, and identifying suspect(s). The first contact the offender has with the criminal justice system is with the police who make the arrest. Probable cause is necessary for the police to make an arrest, and take the suspect into custody. The suspect undergoes booking, a process which may involve fingerprinting, taking mugshots, and interrogation. (Wikipedia, 2006) Courts: Given sufficient evidence, the case will be handed over to the prosecutor who may then file a complaint.
The case will then go before a grand jury in a preliminary hearing. If the grand jury finds probable cause, the suspect will be arraigned with formal charges filed, and bail set. Following the arraignment, plea bargaining may occur with the suspect pleading guilty in exchange for a more lenient sentence. Otherwise, the case will move forward to trial. If the defendant is found guilty, disposition is the next step with the sentencing determined. The case may then be appealed at higher courts. (Wikipedia, 2006)
Corrections: Offenders are then turned over to the correctional authorities. (Wikipedia, 2006). Probation, and possible incarceration and other possible sanctions such as fines, residence in a halfway house, and capital punishment etc. would then follow. As with the British system, research suggests that not everybody is entirely happy with it. In an article published by the Open Society Institute, Amy Well, (2002) suggests that the majority of Americans think that the US Justice System is “broken”, citing results of new national research commissioned by the Open Society Institute.
According to this most Americans believe that the country’s criminal justice system comprises an ineffective, purely punitive approach to crime. It also states that Americans see prevention as the most important function of the criminal justice system, and also the function that is most sorely lacking. (Well, 2002) And according to James Q. Whitman (2003) even though there are high levels of incarceration in America, juveniles are increasingly tried on an adult basis. Also, while the death penalty was reintroduced in America, it was definitively banned throughout Western Europe.
This harshness has created shockwaves throughout Europe, and among Western Nations, only England, up to a certain point, has followed this harshness. The contrast between the Western European criminal justice system and the American one is stark indeed. One example to back up this statement is that American justice is more degrading than that of Europe. American justice displays a resistance to considering the very personhood of offenders. This is a resistance that shows in the triumph of determinate sentencing in America and is a resistance that is lacking in Western Europe.
For example, Dobash and associates undertook a comparative study of the treatment of young people in the criminal justice systems of Scotland and Germany. The authors argue that in Scotland the specialized juvenile courts, the so-called Children’s Hearings Panels, operate as a separate system of criminal justice that is mostly inspired by a therapeutic and paternalistic ideology which puts emphasis on a rehabilitative and caring approach. But the Scottish juvenile justice system also imposes prison sentences in correctional facilities that emphasize work, military drill and physical training.
In Germany, cases involving juveniles are also heard in special courts, on the basis of a separate system of Youth Law. In the German system, however, the focus is on education rather than punishment, with limited incarceration options and generally shorter sentences. (Deflem and Swygaardt, 2001) And in other European countries, the system also seems lenient. Take for example one aspect of the criminal justice system in one European country, Poland. The criminal justice system is in general not responsive to the victim’s needs.
Police treat domestic violence as a family matter and either refuse to intervene or the intervention is not effective. Although domestic violence is publicly prosecuted, police don’t collect evidence properly and often rely only on the woman’s effort. The proceedings can last years before the case is tried in court. Convicted perpetrators usually receive the lowest possible sentence which is suspended in 90% of cases and often they still live together with their victims even if they are divorced (Open Society Institute, 2001).
So it can be seen by the above that while America and Britain have relatively harsh criminal justice systems, the European criminal justice system seems milder. But which is the most effective? Which of these regions has the least crime, and which is able to control the crime it does have best? According to The Weekly Standard (2002), crime on America’s streets is being reduced, while in contrast, in Europe it is soaring. Why should this be? There is a simple explanation for America’s success against crime: The American justice system does a better job of catching criminals and locking them up.
But why are America’s police agencies performing better than their counterparts elsewhere in the developed world? Local control may be a critical difference. America has local police departments–think Sheriff Andy Griffith and Deputy Barney Fife–while massive regional or national agencies provide almost all of the law enforcement in nearly all of the other industrialized countries. With about 16,500 police agencies–over 2,000 of which employ only one officer–America’s policing system might seem disorganized and amateurish at first glance. (Lehrer, 2002).
But it is a successful system. Therefore, it appears that while the harshness of the US and UK criminal justice systems is objected to by Europe, these systems are more effective than the European one. This seems to be borne out by the following information obtained from Crimereduction. gov. uk (2006): Over 1997-2001 crime rose by 4% across the EU. The greatest rises were in France, Greece and Portugal (16%). England & Wales saw a fall of 2% over this period. In 2000-2001 there was a rise of 3% on average across the EU. The largest rises were in Greece, Northern Ireland and Spain.
Over the same period crime in the US dropped. References Coretta Phillips, Gemma Cox and Ken Pease, World Fact Book of Criminal Justice Systems (2006) retrieved 19 Sept 2006 from the website http://www. ojp. usdoj. gov/bjs/pub/ascii/wfbcjeng. txt Catriona Mirlees-Black, “Confidence in the Criminal Justice System: Findings from the 2000 British Crime Survey” retrieved 19 Sept 2006 from the website http://www. crimereduction. gov. uk/crimereductionprogramme20. htm http://news. bbc. co. uk/hi/english/static/in_depth/uk/2001/life_of_crime/miscarriages. stm
DeFlem and Swygart, (2001), retrieved 25 Sept 2006 from the website http://www. cas. sc. edu/socy/faculty/deflem/zcompcj. htm Wikipedia, (2006) “Criminal Justice”, retrieved 24 Sept 2006 from the website http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Criminal_justice Weil, Amy, (2002) “Majority of Americans Think US Justice System is Broken, Ineffective: See Need for Change”, retrieved 24 Sept 2006 from the website http://www. soros. org/initiatives/justice/news/systembroken_20020213 Whitman, James (2003) “Harsh Justice: Criminal Punishment and the Widening Divide Between America and Europe” (2003), Oxford University Press
Lehrer, Eli (2002) “Crime Without Punishment” retrieved 24 Sept 2006 from the website http://www. weeklystandard. com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/001/266umtwb. asp? pg=2 Crimereduction. gov. uk, (2006), retrieved 24 Sep 2006 from the website http://www. crimereduction. gov. uk/statistics/statistics30. htm. Tinyvital. com, (2003), retrieved 24 Sept 2006 from the website http://www. tinyvital. com/BlogArchives/000220. html Open Society Institute, (2001), retrieved 25 Sept 2006 from the website http://www. osi. hu/vaw/Projects/Poland. htm