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Understanding the Criminal Justice System

The criminal justice system is extremely complex. Whether you are already well into your law enforcement career or you simply have an interest in learning more, the online Master of Science in Criminal Justice program offered at Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) can help you gain a better understanding of how it works.

You'll not only learn more about how the criminal justice system operates in the U.S., you'll also see how our nation's system compares to others around the world.

The U.S. Criminal Justice System

Based on English common law, the U.S. criminal justice system has evolved into a multifaceted decision-making process. The basic foundation of this system is that a crime against one person is considered to be a crime against society. However, most crimes go unreported or undiscovered. The only way our system can work is when citizens or victims report unlawful behavior, or when law enforcement officers see it while it is happening or learn about it from their own investigations or through informants.

The juvenile justice system is also filled with complexities. Some states consider certain offenses to be so serious that they don't fall under the juvenile system — regardless of the age of the person accused of committing the crime. In others, prosecutors are given the authority to decide whether to pursue charges against a juvenile in criminal courts or through the juvenile system.

Sentencing rules can also vary from state to state. Some judges are given a great deal of discretion regarding the kinds of sentences they can impose on someone convicted of a crime. In other cases, state laws determine the specific type of sentence that must be handed down to judges.

How the U.S. Compares to Other Countries

Laws in other areas of the world are just as complex. And there are differences between the criminal justice system in the U.S. and other systems around the world that you might have never imagined.

For example, the incarceration rate in the U.S. far outpaces that of many other countries. At the end of 2016, the rate in the U.S. was 860 people incarcerated for every 100,000. Compare that to countries such as Finland, Germany, Australia, Scotland and England/Wales, where the rate is closer to 100 per 100,000 population.

One of the reasons why this is the case is that many other Western democracies attempt to avoid incarceration whenever possible. More than half of all offenders in Finland and Germany typically receive fines rather than jail time.

The U.S. also differs from other countries in recidivism rates. While only 29 percent of offenders in Sweden re-offend, the recidivism rate in the U.S. is more than 60 percent.

The Benefits of Studying Online

Online learning is very convenient, with asynchronous courses designed to fit any student's schedule. You can study from home, the nearest coffee shop or anywhere else internet access is available. If you are already pursuing a career in criminal justice, or you are contemplating this career path, an online master's degree in criminal justice from TAMIU can be an invaluable tool.

Learn more about the TAMIU online Master of Science in Criminal Justice program.


Office of Justice Programs: The Justice System

Pew Research Center: America's Incarceration Rate Is at a Two-decade Low

Taylor & Francis Online: A Global Perspective on Incarceration: How an International Focus Can Help the United States Reconsider Its Incarceration Rates

Docsity: Penal Severity

The Konstanz Repository on Crime and Sanctioning: Penal Sanctions and Sanctioning Practice in the Federal Republic of Germany 1882 - 2004

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