Free «The Past and the Present of Criminal Justice Theory» Essay Sample

The Past and the Present of Criminal Justice Theory

The purpose of this paper is to analyze the historical background of criminal justice theory, as well as to examine punitive and rehabilitative responses to crime in modern times. Based on the vision of the theory’s fundamentals, this paper argues that the contemporary stage of development of criminal justice theory may be characterized by controversial shifts from punitive to rehabilitative approaches.

To explore the historical beginnings of criminal justice theory, it is worth mentioning the definition of criminal justice theory. Maguire and Duffee (2008) define criminal justice theory as “explanations of the variations in responses to crime” (p. 15). Criminal justice theory explains and examines these variations, as well as the application of criminal sanctions to other systems of social control, and analyzes particular sanction’s nature. The history of criminal justice theory may be derived from the laws and customs of ancient societies of Greece and Rome. The elements of criminal justice theory are implicitly reflected in law, order, custom and morality, which determines people’s understanding of social good and evil that, in turn, shapes the common views on crime and leads to criminal sanctions. For instance, the Athenians principles of criminal justice, responsibility and duty were analyzed by Plato in “Republic” and other works, where he addresses the nature of justice and attempts to understand the way people view punishment from the state’s side. Considering the growth of knowledge and development of science, one should note that criminal justice theory was formed as a separate discipline in the late 20th century, though even contemporary researchers find the arguments against its sovereignty. Nowadays, criminal justice theory is a framework that embraces a variety of approaches to criminal theory and criminal justice. The criminal justice theory originated as an academic field in 1950s based on observational research on criminal justice organizations (Bernard & Engel, p. 1, 2001). As these organizations were diverse, the criminal theories were diverse too; therefore, it was difficult to generalize each theory’s finding. The researchers agree that due to complexity of criminal justice system, it may seem impossible to formulate the spinning called criminal justice theory. Nevertheless, it was necessary to provide the progress of criminal justice theory as an academic discipline and scientific field. Thus, in the 1950s, the American Bar Foundation sponsored a number of observation studies that researched criminal justice, which means that the criminal justice theory emerged as a form of law in practice. The next period of criminal justice theory may be characterized as an attempt to bring the real into greater conformity with the ideal: “changing the reality of criminal justice practices to make them more like the ideal (Bernard & Engel, p. 7, 2001).

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Though criminal justice theory deals with a variety of responses to crime, it is worth focusing on punitive and rehabilitative perspectives because they represent polarization of public opinion regarding criminality. Contemporary transformations of criminal justice system may be explained by transition from punitive to rehabilitative approaches to crime, though the former is at the early stage of its development (Conceal of Europe, 2015). Punitive response to crime may be described as a mechanism and a form of social control that considers punishment to be the most appropriate way of dealing with misbehaving individuals. The example of punitive approach to crime is mandatory minimum sentences in the U.S.; though its ineffectiveness is obvious, this system keeps wasting taxpayers’ money and ruining people’s lives. Therefore, a number of criminal justice employees, social activists and politicians believe that punitive approach is no longer beneficial or even acceptable; that is why incarceration as punishment should be replaced by more appropriate measures. As an alternative to punitive perspective, rehabilitative approach in the context of war of drugs policies may include treatment of addicted people instead of imprisoning them. Though punitive responses to crime are still acting not only in the U.S., but also in other countries, the publicity articulates the need for change by applying rehabilitative approaches. As they are not implemented yet, it is not right to say that rehabilitative responses to crime dominate in contemporary society. It means that the process of change involves both shifts towards rehabilitative approach and step-back to punitive responses of crimes.

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Nevertheless, due to raising public initiative and availability of information regarding legal processes and responsibilities, it may be assumed that rehabilitative approach is more appropriate and, therefore, should be implemented. Instead of offering a solution, punitive response to crime may be interpreted as a sign of fear and anxiety: Costelloe, Chiricos and Gertz (2009) found that “crime salience, especially fear and concern about crime consistently predict punitiveness” (p. 25). I think that punitive and rehabilitative responses to criminality demonstrate society’s appreciation of its members; therefore, it is necessary to decide what should be done to misbehaving individuals. I agree with Lacey and Pickard (2015) who claim that punitive approach is inconsistent with the political values of a broadly liberal society (p. 11). The recent findings of criminology theories, as well as findings in other sciences, demonstrate that social evil is the result of system’s structure and principles. It means that the society itself creates the criminals and then finds the ways of dealing with them. In case the society is purposed to make a part of its members safe, punitive approach as a way of waste individuals’ marginalization should be followed. In case the community decides to harmonize social life for as many people as possible, it is necessary to rethink punitive approach and focus on rehabilitation instead of punishment.

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In conclusion, the analysis of criminal justice theory helps to interpret current challenges of criminal justice system. Contemporary responses to crime are at its transitional stage from punitive to rehabilitative one. As punishing is obviously an ineffective measure, rehabilitation approach is more appropriate and consistent with the values of democratic liberal society.

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