Why are young offenders treated differently? Why can’t prisons be the answer to each and every single crime? And what is the best way to ensure an easy transition for offenders that are about to be released? Julian Roberts, author of Criminal Justice: A Very Short Introduction, tells us the top 10 things everyone should know about criminal justice, and what the chances and limitations of the Western system are.
- The components of criminal justice include police, prosecution, judiciary, prisons, probation, and parole.
- The criminal justice system has multiple and often conflicting objectives: the interests of the victim have to be balanced with the due process rights of the defendant, the broader public interest, as well as considerations of cost effectiveness.
- Preventing crime is at least as important as punishing offenders. The three kinds of situational crime prevention, like robbing a bank, involve increasing the effort that offenders must spend to commit a crime, increasing the risk of detection and reducing the rewards gained by criminal behaviour, for example by lowering the amount of cash held in a facility.
- The key principles that guide the practice of criminal justice in Western nations include that criminal prosecution should remain a last resort, that criminal justice interventions should be the minimal response necessary (i.e. if a warning is sufficient, don’t send the offender to prison), and that the severity of the sentence should increase as the crime becomes more serious.
- Of all crimes, only about 10 per cent are reported to the police. Reasons for that include that the crime was not that serious, it is felt that the police can’t do anything about it or that the victim is worried of not being believed
- There are several different ways to punish an offender: financial penalties, community-based punishment (i.e. imprisonment), community service, a curfew, and a residence requirement, among others.
- A suspended prison term is especially effective with young or first time offenders as the mere threat of punishment is often sufficient.
- The judicial response to crime varies greatly from one society to another, even though the crime rates are similar. In Holland, for example, imprisonments account for about 7 per cent of all sentences imposed, whereas in the US about 70 per cent of sentences involve custody.
- We expect our prisons to punish and to rehabilitate – we want offenders to come out as better people. But even if offenders had a change of mind after getting out of prison, their criminal record sticks with them forever and their employment prospects are greatly diminished, worsening the chances to lead a fulfilled life.
- In England, it costs about £38,000 ($60,000) per year to house one prisoner. For this reason alone it is important to ensure that no-one is sent to prison unless it is absolutely necessary.
Featured image credit: Alcatraz by Jeffry. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.