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Comparative Criminal Justice: United states and China

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 1867 words Published: 4th May 2017

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Compare and contrast two different types of criminal justice systems.

The two criminal justice systems that shall be discussed in this paper are those of the United States and that of the People’s Republic of China. When comparing and contrasting these two systems one should start with the premises that both are instituted in their reciprocal countries in the attempt to curb the proliferation of crime, offenders and deter potential offenders. Both the U.S.’ and China’s criminal justice systems make use of a court system, police enforcement organizations and detention and correctional facilities on a regional biases. However this is as much as similarities go as the two systems are radically different since they are based on ideologically opposing government structures.

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The U.S government is based on a free market capitalist economy supported by a representative democracy. On the other hand that of China is founded on a social communist ideology. As for demographic figures, the U.S. has roughly 355 million citizens while China has over one billion, which makes up one fourth of the world population. Klaus Mühlhahn (2009), in his book “Criminal Justice in China”, states that People’s Republic of China (P.R.C.) was established as a socialist country in 1949. From that point onwards efforts have been made to enact basic laws concerning criminal justice administration and enforced nationwide.

The U.S. government is hierarchally based on a unified organization where power is shared between the federal and state governments. Therefore this means that the political system secures autonomy of each state in the U.S. but at the same time adopting a centralized government (Gaines and Miller, 2006). The U.S. justice system is derived from the British common law tradition. Common law is the law that is agreed upon by the common people and exists in two forms, Lex Scripta (written law) and Lex non Scripta (unwritten law).

On the other hand Mühlhahn (2009), says that the Chinese justice system is quite difficult to put under one unitary system. This is due to the fact that the Chinese criminal justice system was repeatedly reorganized in the wake of political changes and internal party disputes. Mühlhahn (2009) also notes that the Chinese justice system under socialism is not an independent administrative system but was integrated into a network of social control and political mobilization. The Chinese Criminal Law is based on the ideological precepts of Marxism, Leninism and Mao Zedong. Its tasks are to use punishments to resist against all revolutionary or criminal acts in order to safeguard the system of the people’s democratic dictatorship.

The police forces of the United States are the successors of Militias originally instituted in the early colonies to protect the population and control the Native Americans. The different forming States developed their own security forces and these operated autonomously. Major cities instituted their own police forces, which functioned under the control of a city government (Gaines and Miller, 2006).

Currently the U.S. police forces are structured on local/city/county and federal/state levels, thus having a federal system. All local policing duties are shared between local municipalities and counties. Cities, towns and villages have the capability to institute their own police forces, while others, usually rural localities, rely on a county Sheriff’s department for the task of enforcement and policing. Usually the size of police forces in the U.S. is directly proportional to the population of the area being controlled. The 50 States forming the U.S. also have their own police forces that are ascribed to different regions and often patrolling undeveloped rural areas. The job of such agencies include investigating crimes against the state such as alcohol licensing violations or welfare fraud, fish and game violations, and highway traffic infractions (Gaines and Miller, 2006).

According to a statistic of the U.S. Department of Justice (2008), on average the ratio of police to population in the U.S. is about 2.3 officers per thousand residents, however larger cities have higher ratios. That force ratio has remained steady for nearly three decades at around 2.21-2.34 police officers per 1000 civilian population.

Next up on the U.S. hierarchal police system is the Federal Government’s police force that subdivided into various other agencies. There is the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is independent of any administration. The F.B.I. intervenes when federal laws are infringed, an interstate crime is committed, or if national security is threatened. However the last case scenario has been taken over by the Department of Homeland Security established after the attacks of September 11th 2001. The U.S. has about 20 federal law enforcement agencies, which also include the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, U.S. Secret Service, Postal Inspection Service and U.S. Marshal’s Service. Further more there exist the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Treasury Department, the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearm Agency and the U.S. Customs officials that deal with border violations while the Immigration and Naturalization Services deal with illegal immigrants. However this specialization of the different policing agencies has its drawbacks. Problems can arise due to jurisdictional issues, when what one should really take care of is the upholding and maintenance of the law (Gaines and Miller, 2006).

The P.R.C. employs around 2 million police officers, of which most work is small offices that serve communities of roughly 10,000 citizens. The main policing agency in the P.R.C. is the People’s Armed Police (PAP), which includes about 700,000 officers. This agency was instituted in 1983 and was formed by incorporating disbanded units of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on domestic defence duty and armed frontier defence and fire fighting. The rise of the PAP shows how Chinese leadership in many ways is more concerned about domestic security than foreign threats (Mühlhahn, 2009). The PAP’s main task is to deal with domestic disturbances, by acting as riot police, guarding government compounds and also foreign embassies. It usually handles border defence but is called in sometimes to back up local police. Recently it has been employed to suppress anti-government protest. The Public Security Service (PSB) is both a local police and the Chinese equivalent of the CIA in the U.S. The P.R.C. justice system also employs paramilitary armed police and more than 1 million security guards. Quasi-police force known as “cheng guan” also operates in China. These carry out tasks deemed unpopular by the citizens, such as collecting fines and tax money, often these are just thugs hired by the official police. In December 2008, the Chinese government announced the creation of a new special unit aimed at cracking down on gun-related crimes and organized crime such as organized prostitution, gambling, drug production and trafficking. The public security budget was raised by nearly a third in 2009 to $4.2 billion in part to address concerns about unrest in Tibet and western China and trouble brought about by unemployed workers and other problems associated with the economic crisis in 2008 and 2009

In the past, police agencies in the US have been accused of corruption and the ‘Good-Old Boy” network of hiring practices. Recently, charges of racism, racial profiling, and use of excessive force have been made by concerned citizens and organizations.

Family members of crime victims often become infuriated with police for their incompetence and unwillingness to make an effort to solve crimes that affect them. Chinese police have a reputation for being corrupt and connected to smuggling. They are regarded with suspicion by ordinary Chinese, particularly in rural areas. Police have traditionally been more involved in maintaining government control than solving crimes.

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As for the US court system, this is a dual judiciary system, of which the two constituent parts (federal and state) function independent of each other. The federal judiciary system includes district courts, circuit courts of appeals, and the United Stated Supreme Court. The state system includes trial courts at the local and state levels, intermediate courts of appeal, and state Supreme Court (Gaines and Miller, 2006). The primary agents working along each other are the judge, prosecutor, and defence attorneys in the U.S. system.

As already stated the U.S. follows the principles of Common law, that were inherited from English jurisprudence. This tradition holds that a decision taken in court is always made on the basis of the Rule of Precedent. This means that each case previously resolved serves as reference and guide for new cases. New aspects of law may be determined or discovered and thus a precedent arises. The U.S. justice system allows for presumption of innocence until proven guilty, plea-bargaining, trial by jury, and the right to a speedy trial (Gaines and Miller, 2006). Such aspects make the justice system in the U.S. more flexible and makes it easier to meet citizens’ the needs.

The penal system of the U.S., like the judicial system, branches into federal, state and local levels. The prison system is supported by governmental funds, in the form of tax revenue from federal (corporate income), state (sales) and local (taxes) revenues. Is also receives funding through Inter-governmental transfer, in the form of federal grants and state grants. Sentences in the US justice system tend to be significantly longer than in China and many states have adopted the three strikes law which forces judges to sentence a defendant to life imprisonment for their third felony offense. The penal system in the US is facing major problems due to overcrowding, gang and drug activity within the prisons, the imprisonment of mentally ill individuals, increase of sex offenders, and extremely violent offenders. Privatization of the prison systems is being adopted in many regions of the country as prisons are becoming more and more overcrowded.

Juvenile offenses and crimes in the US vary in each state and all are dependent on the age of the defendant. For example, in New York State, a juvenile status is considered if the individual is more than 7 but less than 16 year old, unless it is murder then the individual can be 13 or if charged with rape then the defendant can be as young as 14. Contrary to the French system, the tendency in New York and possibly in the rest of the US is to treat the offender as an adult and increase the levels of punishment including incarceration.

Gaines, Larry K. and Roger Le Roy Miller, Criminal Justice in Action (2006).



Klaus Mühlhahn, Criminal Justice in China: A History, Harvard University Press (2009)


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