Justice, Part 1

Conflict Within the System

I’m taking a criminal justice class this semester, and because I’m busy enough for the time that reading outside what I’m studying isn’t really happening (like the industry reading I usually do to find blog topics) you all get to follow along with what I’m learning for school. Since the two big pushes this week are reading for CJS and studying microbial growth, you get…

If the human community is an organism, then the justice system is the immune system of that body. Invaders, pathogens, commit harm against cells, and the phagocytes (cops) engulf them and carry them off to… be excreted. Which process would be trial, sentencing, and so forth. At this point the metaphor breaks down, and I’m going to get back to the paper I was reading, because unlike microbial pathogens, criminals get second chances (or more than that…) after prison (although if you’re interested in corrections, I highly recommend Peter Grant’s memoir Walls, Wires, Bars and Souls).

Herbert Packer’s Two Models of the Criminal Process, although written in 1964, still sheds a lot of light on our system in the United States, although much has changed, radically in the last few decades on both State and Federal levels. I’m including a link to it, although I’m not certain if this is the full 69 page version I read for class.  He posits two models, the Crime Control Model, and the Due Process Model.

Crime Control Model
“The model, in order to operate successfully, must produce a high
rate of apprehension and conviction and must do so in a context where
the magnitudes being dealt with are very large, and the resources for
dealing with them are very limited. There must then be a premium
on speed and finality. Speed, in turn, depends on informality and on
uniformity; finality depends on minimizing the occasions for challenge” (p 10)

Boiled down, the Crime Control model rests on two things: efficiency and finality. What stuck me most about this model is Packer pointing out: “The presumption of guilt allows the Crime Control Model to; deal efficiently with large numbers. The supposition is that the screening processes operated by police and prosecutors are reliable indicators of probable guilt” (p 11) While we know that the presumption of innocence until proven guilty is a core to our justice system, yet we see this presumption of guilt in most of our dealings with those who enforce the laws, it’s easy to see that indeed, there are two processes in play, and they are in some part antithetical to one another.

 The Due Process Model

“”insists on the prevention and elimination of mistakes to
the extent possible; the Crime Control Model accepts the probability
of mistakes up to the level at which they interfere with the goal of
repressing crime, either because too many guilty people are escaping
or, more subtly, because general awareness of the unreliability of the
process leads to a decrease in the deterrent efficacy of the criminal law.” (p15)

The Due Process model does center on the belief that an individual is innocent until such time as proven guilty. It is also the process more concerned with individual rights, rather than community order. It is, in essence, the ideal of what our criminal justice system ought to be. However, through sheer volume of crime and criminals, the two models have over time found themselves working together, uneasy bedfellows in a search for justice, one the assembly line of crime and punishment, the other the patient workings of a system determined to keep the innocent free, even if a small fraction of the guilty go free as well.

Why do we see the system swamped with crime?  “The behavior content of the criminal law has expanded enormously over the past century, mainly because declaring undesirable conduct to be criminal is the legislative line of least resistance for coping with the vexing problems of an increasingly complex and interdependent society” (p67) Packer also wrote that a country needed only have as much crime as it wanted to have. In other words, the more legislation enacted to make more actions illegal, the more crime the criminal justice system must deal with. Can this tidal wave be reversed? Perhaps… however, as Packer pointed out above, it is far easier to put a law into place as a kneejerk reaction to a public outcry, than it is to remove a law, or to react more slowly and with more justice in the first place, before enacting that law. Simply put, there is no motivation for the legislators to remove laws, and reasons why they are reluctant to admit their failings and retract them.

Tomorrow: Poverty, Resources, and Crime.


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  1. Pingback: Justice, Part 2 | Cedar Writes

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