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Deviance and Social Control

Criminal Justice and Crime Control

Social Values and Criminal Justice

Approaches to criminal justice are rooted in social and cultural values such as due process, impartiality, retribution, and rehabilitation.
A criminal justice system includes the laws, institutions, and practices that a society uses to respond to crime. Criminal justice systems reflect the values and beliefs of the surrounding society. In the United States, due process, the promise of fair treatment of those who are accused, regardless of the crime, is considered an inalienable right. This approach to criminal justice presumes the accused is innocent until proven otherwise. This idea has its roots in American ideals of freedom and citizens' rights. Most criminal justice systems strive to uphold the value of impartiality, taking a neutral stance toward accusations of crime. However, sociologists point out that people's inherent biases usually affect their decisions, even when impartiality is the goal. Men and women, for instance, may have different biases—viewpoints shaped by their socialization and lived experience. Thus, it is difficult for police officers, prosecutors, judges, and juries to always remain truly impartial. In the United States, some judges and district attorneys are elected. This aligns with American cultural values around democracy and the power of citizens, but it also can impact the ability of officials to act impartially, because they must also consider how their decisions will affect the next election. The American criminal justice system also incorporates the cultural value of retribution, the sense that a criminal ought to suffer for having committed a crime. Some approaches to criminal justice stress the value of rehabilitation over retribution. The ultimate aim of rehabilitation is to integrate a convicted criminal back into society. Restorative justice is an approach to criminal justice based on rehabilitation that also considers how to repair the social and emotional harm caused by crime. For example, restorative justice strategies include organization of dialogues between victims and offenders and attempts to provide meaningful support to victims. Proponents of restorative justice focus on how criminal justice can transform individuals and communities.

Prison-Industrial Complex

The U.S. prison-industrial complex is related to the growth of private prisons and the capitalist profit motive.
In the United States, the criminal justice system involves the prison-industrial complex, the system of private management of prisons that ties incarceration to the profit motive that drives businesses. While some prisons are public institutions, run by the government, many are private institutions run by corporations. Because private businesses exist first and foremost to make money, the primary interest of the prison industry is not to carry out justice but rather to turn a profit. This can result in overcrowding, poor conditions, and mistreatment of inmates. Corporate prisons have immense power over prisoners but have no motive to provide rehabilitation or to prepare inmates to transition back into society. For-profit prisons also feed mass incarceration, or extremely high rates of imprisonment, in the United States. Sociologists note that the United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. It has the largest prison population in the world and also has the highest rate of incarceration per capita. Since the mid-20th century, the prison population has grown exponentially faster than either the overall population or the crime rate. A 2016 study shows the number of people incarcerated in the United States has increased by 500 percent since 1980. This is not linked to increasing crime rates. In fact, the violent crime rate has steadily fallen during this same period. One factor in the development of mass incarceration is the rise of for-profit prisons. Laws and policies framed as tough on crime, including mandatory minimum sentences and longer sentences for drug-related offenses, support the trend of mass incarceration. Recidivism, return to the criminal justice system after release from prison, is also connected to mass incarceration. Recidivism can also refer to repetition of criminal behavior, leading to rearrest and reincarceration. A 2014 study found that more than 75 percent of former prisoners are rearrested within five years of their release. Some researchers link this phenomenon of the "revolving door" of incarceration to a need to keep inmate populations high in order to make prisons profitable. Other issues related to recidivism include stigma and a lack of support for formerly incarcerated people, making the transition to life outside of prison difficult. This transition is particularly challenging for members of socially marginalized groups, including people living in poverty and people of color.