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The United States criminal justice system's sole purpose is to put into effect the laws of the State. The justice system in the United States is divided into three categories: federal, state, and military (Smith, 2010). The legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government provide the fundamental structure of this system. The system is run based on jurisdiction. Examples of components of the justice system that are organized at the state level are courts of appeal, state prisons, and parole boards. There are also components like trial courts, police departments, and local jails that are organized in the city or county level. The main components of the criminal justice system are the police, the Courts and the Corrections Departments (Net Industries, 2011).
They can be considered to be the most significant and critical component of the justice system, because it is the police who responsible for finding and apprehending all who break the law in the country. They are also responsible for charging them for the crimes committed and presenting sufficient evidence against them in a court of law. The police have three basic functions: social service, whereby the police assist the public wherever there is a need of emergency assistance, for example, finding lost children, or even adults, giving first aid where there have been accidents. The second function is maintenance of order, which involves traffic management, the handling of crowds, removing of prostitutes from the streets, and handling of domestic disputes. The third function is crime control, which involves criminal investigation and making arresting (Cole & Smith, 2007).
Structure of the Police System
The police system is made of numerous agencies at national, state, and county levels.
Federal Police agencies:
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI): This agency investigates federal crimes, emphasizing national threats like terrorism and organized crime, which includes drug trafficking, violent crimes like bank robbery, rape, and murder, and civil rights crimes. They assist local agencies in processing of forensic evidence and in giving intelligence and statistics on criminals and crime zones. They assist the local agencies in training of recruits.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF): It investigates the illegal firearm use and criminal organizations involved in drug trafficking.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA): It was made to put in force all federal drug-control laws.
US Marshall Service: they provide security for the members of the federal courts. They also arrest federal prisoners who have escaped, and operate the witness protection program.
The Secret Service: this agency is responsible for arresting currency counterfeiters and providing security for the president and other high-ranking officials of government.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS): it monitors the passage of immigrants into the United States. It patrols the boards, stopping illegal immigrants from entering the country and deporting those of them who have crossed over.
The police are also divided according to areas or jurisdictions:
State Police: They are in charge for upholding law and order in a state. They patrol the state highways, train county police, and assist law enforcement organizations in investigations.
County Police: Here we have the sheriffs who are in charge of policing the counties.
Municipal Police: they bear the heaviest job of dealing with violent crime, because they are the officers who do constant patrols, interacting personally with locals in a given locality (Cole & Smith, 2007).
There are various issues facing the US police force today, however, which limit its effectiveness. One of these issues is police corruption. Many times, this occurs in the area of narcotics. Drug barons in the country have become more powerful than ever before. The influence of their criminal organizations has spread across the country and even crossed the border to countries in Central America and Europe. These barons have bribed many police officers with millions of dollars to cause them to assist in the trafficking of these drugs across the border. The drugs are then distributed within the country. These drug cartels and gangs have also significantly increased illegal distribution of firearms.
The best step to take would be for the government to reinvest heavily in equipping the police force as well as recruiting more police officers, to help overcome the growing menaces of gangs and drug cartels. It would also do well to raise the salaries of the police officers, to make them more content in their jobs. When content, it will be harder to sway them into accepting bribes.
There are three kinds of courts: state, federal, and local courts. State criminal cases are handled in the state courts, federal criminal cases are handled in federal courts, and the same applies to the local courts.
Majority of criminal cases are handled in the state courts. Here, the cases handled include marriage disputes, land transactions, and business contracts and commercial deals. Here, are some types of state courts:
Lower Courts: They handle misdemeanors like traffic offenses and drunkenness. These courts have various names like justice of the peace courts, juvenile courts, police courts, municipal courts, and traffic courts.
Courts of General Jurisdiction: These are state courts that handle trial cases. They handle serious crime cases like murder, rape, and robbery.
Courts of Appellate Jurisdiction: People, who go to trial in the courts of general jurisdiction and lose, can appeal to the courts of appellate jurisdiction.
Supreme Courts: These are the state's top courts. Most people prefer to appeal to supreme courts, especially in small sized states.
These are structured in a similar way to the state courts.
U.S District Courts: These are the bottom level federal courts. Every state has one; they handle cases to do with possession of drugs, fraud, and illegal immigrant cases.
U.S. Courts of Appeals: they handle appeals from the district courts. These courts normally sit three judges. They also handle some U.S. Supreme Court cases.
U.S. Supreme Court: it is the top federal court. It hears appeals from both state and federal courts. It sits nine judges.
The principal problem common to state and federal courts is the soaring quantity of cases being handled. Tougher laws set in place have brought about an overwhelming flood of case files. The lower-level courts that handle most of these cases, because of this, end up handling the cases more informal and hurriedly way; thus, the person accused is not guaranteed a fair ruling.
One way of reducing court caseloads would be: to withdraw certain case types like drunkenness and traffic offenses from trial courts, and to forward them to smaller more specialized courts that can be dedicated for these misdemeanors. Drug cases can also be handled by a specific drug court, thus lessening the burden of trial courts (Cole, & Smith, 2007).
Department Of Corrections
The United States Prisons can be simply distinguished as follows:
Super-Maximum-Security Penitentiaries: they hold criminals that pose the greatest assault and escape risk.
Maximum-Security Penitentiaries: they hold most of the most dangerous prisoners.
Medium-Security Penitentiaries: they are less fortified than maximum-security prisons, and they hold prisoners that are less prone to escaping.
Minimum-Security Penitentiaries: These prisons most times do not have perimeter walls or armed guards. They hold prisoners that pose a low risk to society.
There are also women's maximum, medium, and minimum-security prisons that are for female prisoners.
Coeducational Penitentiaries: these prisons hold both male and female prisoners, who live, study, and eat together.
Private Prisons: these are prisons owned by private corporations (Cole & Smith, 2007).
One of the issues facing the prison system now is the rise of the prison population. This population has increased by the millions in the last decade. Harsher sentencing laws, longer sentences, have brought this. Also, greater reluctance by parole boards to offer parole. As a result, the prisons are being overcrowded, and the government has to invest in addition correctional facilities. One other issue that is causing the increase of inmates in prisons is the ongoing drug war. Majority of the prisoners in the penitentiaries today are in prisons because of narcotics crimes. In addition, drug offenders get longer jail terms because the government has set extra-tough drug laws. As drug offenders have entered the prison system, they have also introduced drugs and drug distribution into the prison system. As a result, prisoners get intoxicated and become more prone to violence (George F. Cole & Smith 2007).
In the end, this effect could even corrupt prisoners more than before. One way the government could fix this would be to revise the laws and prescribed jail terms for these inmates, and consider reducing these jail terms and the strictness of their laws. More constructive programs to rehabilitate prisoners should be employed, and also more should be invested in preventive action instead of disciplinary action. For example, as concerns the drug war, the government should heavily invest in cutting all passageways for drugs into the country; thus, killing the drug trade.