The criminal justice system encompasses all of the practices, policies and institutions that maintain social order by deterring crime, penalizing those convicted of crimes and providing rehabilitation services for former convicts. The U.S. criminal justice system consists of three components: legislative, which involves the creation of local, state and federal laws; adjudication, which is carried out by the court system; and corrections, which includes prisons, jails, and probation and parole systems. In the United States, the legislative functions of the criminal justice system are addressed by Congress and by state and local legislative bodies.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is the federal agency responsible for law enforcement and the administration of justice. The agency is led by the attorney general, a member of the Cabinet. The attorney general is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. In addition to the federal DOJ, each state has a department of justice that is headed by a state attorney general. The DOJ was established by an act of Congress in 1870. The Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 increased the importance of the agency by granting it responsibility for law enforcement related to transportation regulation. In 1884, the agency took over control of federal prisons from the Department of the Interior. Modern U.S. criminal justice policy is guided by the 1967 report issued by President Johnson’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice.
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Challenges of Crime in a Free Society addressed the causes of crime and provided recommendations for crime prevention, law enforcement and the administration of criminal justice. In the United States, incarceration has become the main form of justice for individuals who are convicted of crimes. The nation has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the United States represents 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its prison population.
Between 1970 and 2005, the prison population in the United States increased by a factor of 700 percent, outpacing increases in population and the crime rate. As of 2012, one in every 106 white males, one in every 36 of Hispanic males and one in 15 African American males over age 18 are incarcerated. Felony offenders are held in federal and state prisons, while less serious offenders may receiver shorter sentences to be served in county or city jails. Alternative forms of punishment, including house arrest or residence in halfway houses, are used to a far lesser degree. Maintaining prisons has become a primary focus for the DOJ. From a total 2012 agency budget of $28.2 billion, $8.4 billion was allotted for prisons and detention operations. The causes for the sharp rise in U.S. prison populations are not immediately apparent.
Some scholars blame anti-drug policies that favor incarceration in place of treatment for nonviolent drug offenses. Additional cited causes include “zero tolerance” law enforcement and mandatory-sentencing laws, including state Three Strikes laws. The ACLU reports that nearly half of all state prisoners are serving time for nonviolent offenses. Over the past 20 years, the amount of money spent for state prisons has grown at six times the rate of money for higher education. The rising cost of maintaining prisons has let to debate about the privatization of incarceration facilities. Studies have found that privately run prisons often operate at a lower price per inmate but provide fewer educational and vocational opportunities and fewer social services. Some of the main private companies operating prisons include GEO Group, Inc., Community Education Centers and Corrections Corporation of America. These and other similar companies are part of the American Correctional Association, a non-profit organization that lobbies for legislation that favors the prison industry.
Criminal Justice System Careers
The criminal justice system encompasses a broad range of job categories, including law enforcement, the court system, homeland security and corrections. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is the nation’s foremost law enforcement agency, ensuring the protection of U.S. citizens while preserving their constitutional rights. MPA careers within the DOJ are part of an important mission that offers both challenges and career rewards.
Job Title: Supervisory Statistician
Estimated Salary: $105,211 to $155,500 per year
This supervisory statistician position is within the DOJ’s Office of Justice Program (OJP). The OJP is an important resource for criminal justice organizations across the nation. The supervisory statistician position involves the collection of national statistics related to law enforcement, prosecution and the court system, and the application of statistical data to criminal justice policy. The position also requires supervision of a group of statisticians and researchers. In addition to coursework in public administration, the position requires experience in conducting statistical studies and projects related to criminal justice issues.
Job Title: Administrative Officer
Estimated Salary: $92,259 to $119,935 per year
Located within the DOJ, the U.S. Marshals Service is the nation’s oldest law enforcement agency. The position of administrative officer for the Eastern District of New York is responsible for developing administrative policies and procedures to be used for standard operations related to court and witness security, asset seizure, prisoner custody and transportation, and the apprehension of fugitives. The administrative officer leads an administrative staff, works to maintain maximum benefits from available financial resources, and provides guidance on a wide variety of policies and laws. The position also requires analysis and evaluation of the administrative programs and policies to determine their effectiveness and efficiency.
Job Title: Management and Program Analyst
Estimated Salary: $89,033 to $115,742 per year
This management and program analyst position is located with the National Protection and Programs Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security headquarters in Arlington, Va. The Department secures the nation’s borders, prevents and deters terrorist attacks, responds to potential threats, and promotes safe commerce. The management and program analyst serves as a technical expert on long-range planning. The position involves comprehensive infrastructure studies and review of major managerial issues. Responsibilities include development, review and expert interpretation of program changes, new directives, security guidelines and legal initiatives related to Department of Homeland Security infrastructure. Additional responsibilities include review of major managerial issues involving communication, policy, compliance and operations.