A criminal justice system is bestowed with the responsibility of enforcing the criminal law in accordance with the set of procedural rules and limitations that are well defined and is therefore composed of a set of legal and social institutions which makes this mandate workable. The criminal justice system in the United States is made up of several subsystems or branches which are interdependent in various aspects of their operations to deter criminal activities. These subsystems comprise of one or more public institutions and their staffs. The branches are the law enforcement which comprise of the police and other law enforcement agencies, trial and appellate courts, and correctional departments responsible for some or all parole, probation and custodial functions. Key attributes of the criminal justice system are resource dependence, discretion, filtering and sequential tasks.
Resource dependence implies that the resources required by the criminal justice system are provided by other agencies. Good relations are therefore maintained between the actors in the system and the ones who allocate resources such as the legislators, political decision makers, city council members and mayors. A specific sequence is followed by the criminal justice system such that an arrest has to be made by the police before a defendant is brought to the prosecutor for prosecution. Consequently, the workload of the court is determined by the decisions made by the prosecutor and so on. These exchange relationships enhance strong interdependence among the decision makers within the system so as to achieve their goals. The system also serves as a filtering process in which various stages see several defendants sent to the next level while others are either acquitted or further processed according to the conditions with which they have been charged (Smith & Cole, 2006).
The police agencies form the greatest part of the law enforcement branch which is charged with several responsibilities. Prevention of crime through educating the public about the implications of crime and also minimizing those circumstances under which criminal activities are most likely to be committed is one of the major roles of the police agencies. Law enforcers maintain peace in both public and domestic situations by protecting people and their rights. Police combat crime and apprehend violators though this role do not account for much time and police resources as many people may tend to believe. After apprehension and prosecution of a criminal, the court takes over to determine whether the defendant is guilty or otherwise by following fair and reliable procedures which leads to just decisions. Depending on the decisions made by the court, the defendant serves a sentence which is appropriate for the behavior being dealt with (Smith & Cole, 2006).
The corrections branch on the other hand assumes the major roles of punishing and incarcerating the criminals who have been sentenced for their offenses in the courts. Federal prison or state prison is used for incarceration of criminals in most forms of punishment. In other serious and violent crimes in which the offenders receive death sentence, the correctional system is expected to house such criminals in a section of the prison often referred to as the “death row” in addition to carrying out their execution. The correction branch also has the role of ensuring that criminals on probation sentence undergo the anticipated reformation while those on parole fulfill the stipulated conditions which include obeying the law and the meetings held with parole and probation officers (Hall, n.d).
The criminal justice system is therefore made up of the three branches with each having distinct obligations. However, this do not imply that they are totally independent of each other, rather the operations of one branch affects those of the others in that the courts can only and must deal with those arrested by the police, while the corrections branch deals with those delivered to it following judgment by the courts. The degree of criminal reformation achieved by the corrections is a strong determinant of whether the criminals will once again fall in the police business which also influence the sentences passed by the judges. Moreover, the activities of the police are under scrutiny by the courts and the court decisions also determine which police activities are to be carried out (law.ua.edu, 2002).
Merging the three branches into one single agency which will perform all the functions, would make administration of criminal justice more efficient and reduce the existing conflict between the three branches. For instance, the gap between the correctional apparatus and the other two branches would be minimized. This is because the correctional apparatus is so much isolated that the officials do not enjoy the everyday working relationships with the rest of the officials in other branches. The fact that law enforcement policy is made by the police has culminated in excessive personal discretion which has had serious implications. For instance, if a police officer judges a particular conduct not suspicious enough to warrant intervention, the golden opportunity to avert different criminal activities may be lost. Merging the three branches would create policies that have clear demarcations as to when to intervene or not. This would improve efficiency and reduce conflict especially regarding the way personal discretion is exercised.
On the same note, abuse of power would be prevented. For example, creation of the merge would allow creation of collective policies to be used in courts by the magistrates and prosecutors so that they do not despise the statements given by the police on the basis of personal discretion. Clear policies and procedure for arrests will prevent the police from overreacting due to excessive personal discretion while the corrections would be salvaged from being misused as a dumping camp for disturbing people. Determination of bails for criminals can be best done by the police, prosecutors and courts after merging as opposed to this duty being left in the hands of the magistrate alone.
Conversely, merging the three branches of criminal justice has several limitations in that merging different courts is challenging and is complicated. This is because the decisions arrived at by a certain court are binding in a particular jurisdiction and still within that jurisdiction, the powers of different courts vary greatly. The cost of combining these branches and making operational policies is substantial and the time frame required to arrive to the acceptable policies by all is quite much. Complexity of the process is worsened by the need to interact regulatory law, constitutional law and statutory law (lib.udel.edu, 2010). The criminal justice system therefore can be seen to be composed of legal and social institutions which though different are interdependent in the way the independent operations of one branch affect those of the others. The fact that they are interdependent creates a possibility of merging them which would create high efficiency, reduce conflict and prevent abuse of power by individual systems.
Hall, S. (n.d). What Is the Responsibility of the Corrections Branch of the Criminal Justice System? Retrieved July 9, 2010, from http://www.ehow.com/about_6374650_responsibility-branch-criminal-justice-system_.html
law.ua.edu. (2002). CRIMINAL LAW. Retrieved July 9, 2010, from http://www.law.ua.edu/colquitt/crimmain/crimmisc/crime.htm
lib.udel.edu. (2010). Statutory Law:A Research Guide. Retrieved July 9, 2010, from http://www2.lib.udel.edu/subj/godc/resguide/statutor.htm
Smith, C. E., & Cole, G. F. (2006). The American System of Criminal Justice. New York: Cengage Learning.