WHAT IS CRIMINAL JUSTICE?
● The American experience with crime during the last half century has been especially influ- ential in shaping the criminal justice system of today. Although crime waves have come and gone, some events during the past century stand out as especially significant, including a spurt of widespread organized criminal activity associated with the Prohibition years of the early twentieth century, the substantial increase in “traditional” crimes during the 1960s and
1970s, the threat to the American way of life represented by illicit drugs around the same time, and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
● The theme of this book is that of individual rights versus public order. As this chapter points out, the personal freedoms guaranteed to law-abiding citizens as well as to criminal suspects by the Constitution must be closely guarded. At the same time, the urgent social needs of communities for controlling unacceptable behavior and protecting law-abiding citizens from harm must be recognized. This theme is represented by two opposing groups: individual- rights advocates and public-order advocates. The fundamental challenge facing the practice of American criminal justice is in efficiently enforcing the laws while simultaneously recog- nizing and supporting the legal rights of suspects and the legitimate personal differences and prerogatives of individuals.
● Although justice may be an elusive concept, it is important to recognize that criminal justice is tied closely to notions of social justice, including personal and cultural beliefs about equity and fairness. As a goal to be achieved, criminal justice refers to those aspects of social justice that concern violations of the criminal law. Although community interests in the administra- tion of criminal justice demand the apprehension and punishment of law violators, criminal justice ideals extend to the protection of the innocent, the fair