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Overview of US Criminal Justice System

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 1253 words Published: 18th Jul 2018

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The Ins and Outs of Corrections


As far as I can remember as a child, when I thought of the corrections system, I thought it was doing something bad and going to jail. I never gave thought to how things really work. Little did I know that the process of “corrections” is comprised of different areas that make up a system known as the Criminal Justice System. The United States criminal justice system is made up of a network at the federal, state and local levels.

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Federal court jurisdiction is limited to certain types of cases listed in the U.S. Constitution (Comparing). For the most part, federal court jurisdictions only hear cases in which the United States is a party, cases involving violations of the Constitution or federal law, crimes on federal land, and bankruptcy cases. Federal courts also hear cases of disputes between two or more states. While federal courts handle fewer cases than most state courts, the cases heard tend to be of great importance and of great interest to the press and the public.

State courts are also known as “general jurisdiction” (Comparing). They hear cases that are not selected for federal courts. 90% of all cases heard in the American court system happens at the state level. State court systems vary from state to state. Each state gets to make and interpret its own laws as long as they do not violate the constitution and they are all a little different. Some examples of cases heard at the state level are: state tax and law violations, real estate cases, custody and inheritance cases.

Local courts are similar to state courts. They handle cases such as divorce, family courts, personal injury, minor drug violations and contract disputes.

As with any mechanism, the criminal justice system involves the coordinated functioning of its distinct parts. It is made of three parts that process a case from inception, through trial to punishment. Throughout each stage of the process, constitutional protections exist to ensure that the rights of the accused and convicted re respected.

Law Enforcement is the first component of the criminal justice system. It involves police officers, sheriffs, park rangers, federal agents, detectives and other agents that usually make first contact with criminals. These individuals are responsible for upholding the law, investigating crime and apprehending the individuals responsible for committing the crime. In this area is where criminals are read their Miranda rights. Cases are investigated, evidence is collected, witnesses are questioned and the cases are moved on to the courts.

Courts make up the second component of the criminal justice system. The courts are a key piece of the puzzle known as the justice system. The courts are made up of judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, bailiffs, jurors and court reporters. The individuals in the courts works to ensure an individual’s rights are not violated and a fair trial takes place. Juries and judges play a part in sentencing individuals for crimes committed, but they must each follow guidelines established by state and federal statutes.

The third component of criminal justice system is corrections. This component includes probation officers, parole officers and corrections officers. These individuals in the court component work together to ensure that a convicted offender serves his or her sentence as advised by the courts and supervises the convicts as they serve their sentence. Each of these three aspects of the criminal justice system is essential to the effective functioning of the larger system as a whole.

Another key component of the criminal justice system that is constantly in the news are the prisons themselves. Prison transformation has been a big news topic in Alabama lately. One thing that has been left out is the system that runs these prisons. Prisons are made up of staff members with specific roles with the same goals. These goals are to provide for the security of the community by incarcerating those who break the law; promoting the smooth and effective functioning of the institution; ensuring that incarceration is secure but humane; and giving inmates the opportunity to develop a positive lifestyle while incarcerated and to gain the personal and employment skills they need for a positive lifestyle after release (Schmalleger 2015).

The prison’s staff is very extensive. It doesn’t consist of warden and officers. The staff are arranged into a hierarchy which consists of:

Warden: The chief executive, in charge of the prison, must adhere to programs created by the state and have enormous discretion within their institution. Each institution will also have several associate wardens that preside over specific programs within an institution (Staff).

Executive Assistant: The Executive Assistant serves as the Warden’s chief sycophant, and is also the only person other than the Warden who has authorization to speak with the media (Staff).

Department Heads: A Department Head will oversee the day-to-day operations. Individuals who hold the role of a Department Head will have much more in the way of direct interaction with inmates (Staff).

Unit Managers: In many ways, prisons are like communities. In the Bureau of Prisons, institutions hold anywhere from 100 to several thousand people. Administrators make use of a system they call “Unit Management” to keep a handle on operations. With the Unit Management system, administrators can more effectively keep track of all the people (Staff).

These units are broken down into even smaller levels to include:

  • Program staff (psychologists, psychiatrists, medical doctors, nurses, medical aides, teachers, counselors, caseworkers and ministers);
  • Custodial staff (majors, captains, lieutenants, sergeants, and correctional officers);
  • Service and maintenance staff (kitchen workers, physical plant personnel and outside contractors);
  • Volunteers (prison ministry, speakers, and other volunteers) (Schmalleger 2015).

The American Criminal Justice system is very complex. It has a hierarchy of Court systems that trickles down to smaller systems that have their own hierarchy of systems also. Just like the justice system is made of components of federal, state and local courts, the prison system itself also has components. Every are of the justice system all work together with the same common goals: to enforce the laws, maintain peace and order in the communities and provide their constituencies safety and security.


Comparing Federal & State Courts. (n.d.). Retrieved February 09, 2017, from www.us.courts.gov

Schmalleger, F., PhD, & Smykla, J. O., PhD. (2015). Corrections in the 21st Century (7th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Staff Hierarchy and Administrative Remedy. (n.d.). Retrieved January 15, 2017, from https://www.prisonprofessor.com

State Court vs Federal Courts. (n.d.). Retrieved February 09, 2017, from www.judiciallearningcenter.org

The Difference Between Federal Courts and State/Local Courts. (n.d.). Retrieved February 15, 2017, from www.civilrights.org

United States District Court. (n.d.). Retrieved February 09, 2017, from www.us.courts.gov


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