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Traditionally the criminal justice system was mainly focussed on two institutions which were the police and the courts. In this two way system the police had to decide on the charge and pass the file onto a solicitor who represented their clients in court. As the time moved on the aim of the criminal justice system started to differ. For example in the contemporary United Kingdom the aim of the criminal justice system is not only to punish offenders but also to prevent crime in the first place. Also to get community support within the criminal justice process has become one of the main objectives of the system.
The word 'community' is a complex word which can be used in different contexts and it has many different definitions depending on which context it is used in. It can be said that the word 'community' is a seductive word. In general terms the word community can be defined as common shared values within a group who lives in the same district. The fact that these people have common values enables stability within a community. According to a theory that comes from the Chicago School the surrounding in which an individual lives in affect their behaviour. Another idea which they put across in their theory is that modernity is modifying and damaging the community bonds causing a dysfunctional community, which they claim is the cause of any criminal activity an individual may commit.
In communities certain groups of people tend to have the power to be heard, examples of these groups include the elderly and the ethnic majorities which live within that community. One problem with hearing elderly people's views is that their views may be old fashioned and not applicable in the contemporary United Kingdom. On the other hand only hearing ethnic majorities mean that ethnic minorities' views are not heard. Therefore it can be said that views that are heard are not representative of all the community.
In order to explain ways in which the public can be encouraged to get involved in the criminal justice process, theories of Right Realism and Left Realism are essential to be discussed. The right realist theorists such as Clarke argue that communities should be encouraged to take harsher attitudes towards crime and deviance. They believe in the idea of zero tolerance, where offenders are punished efficiently. The right realism theory considers physical ways which will get the community to prevent crime within the criminal justice system. For example they state that public can put on burglar alarms in their properties to reduce being at risk of burgled. On the other hand the left realism theory focuses on the reasons why people might commit crime, and looks at issues such as the role of relative deprivation in causing an individual to commit crime. Another theory that deals with getting the community involved into the criminal justice system is the Restorative Justice theory. The aim of this theory is to prevent re-offending by bringing all the stakeholders together. Therefore for this theory to work all the stakeholders are encouraged to get involved into criminal justice process, these stakeholders include the victim, the offender and the community the harm was caused to. As a result of this theory the victim will be helped to handle its scars that were caused by the incident. On the other hand process of restoring the offender will take place to encourage the offender to live a life that prevents them from breaking the law again. As the affected communities are suppose to take part in this restoring process they can be seen as one the stakeholders as well.
There are many opportunities to get the communities to be involved in the criminal justice process. However most of these opportunities are in the form of volunteering positions. One of these volunteering roles is to become a community support officer. The community support officers work along with the police to tackle the problem of anti-social behaviour, they can also reassure the public regarding their concerns and issues that are stated are being dealt with effectively. One of the strengths of this system is that as it is an individual from the public who is giving this reassurance rather than official bodies such as the police. Therefore the public may rely on what is being said as they see person that is giving reassurance as being from one of them. This means that the community support officers can also act as communicator between the official bodies such as the police and the community as they are words are trusted on by both sides. Another volunteering opportunity that is available where communities can get involved in the criminal justice system is thorough neighbourhood watch scheme. Individuals from the public can volunteer to become part of this scheme or if this scheme does not exist in a community that community can apply to bring this scheme into their district. One big limitation of communities being involved in the criminal justice process through these schemes is that they are all voluntary work. Most people have full time jobs and do not have time for volunteering.
To discuss which part or parts of the criminal justice process might be most appropriate for community involvement, it is first crucial to outline the stages of criminal justice process. The criminal justice process can be broken down to five stages. The first one of these stages is reporting and investigating a crime. In the first stage of the criminal justice process community involvement is almost essential. Individuals within the community should be encouraged to report the criminal activities they witness. However to be able to do this public needs to have confidence in the criminal justice process. The second stage is preparing for the courts. In the second stage the people who have witness the criminal activity should show willingness to give evidence about the incident. To enable this, official bodies should provide protection and guidance to the witness to allow the witness to feel less anxious about the situation. The witness should be assured that giving evidence will not get them into trouble with the defendant and that they will be protected if necessary. The third stage is going to court. In this stage the public can get involve into the process by actually going to the court and giving evidence about the incident when needed. The fourth stage is sentencing and the final stage is punishing and rehabilitating. The public cannot interfere with the actual sentencing of the criminal as all sentences are given by the judges. However the rehabilitating part of stage five is the most important stage where communities can actually do a lot to prevent the offender from re-offending. For example communities should not outcast an offender, this would push the offender to re-offend. On the other trying to communicate with an offender after they have served their punishment might make the offender re-think about the way he behaves.
Overall community involvement into the criminal justice process is almost essential in the contemporary United Kingdom. This has been given effect up to some degree by the volunteering roles that are available within the criminal justice process. On the other hand other schemes such as the rehabilitation programmes that are in place to support offenders after they have served their sentence or punishment requires great degree of support by the public. However if official bodies want the community to be involved in the criminal justice system more, they should first raise public confidence about the criminal justice system.