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Home — Essay Samples — Law, Crime & Punishment — Justice — An Analysis of the Differences Between the British and American Criminal Justice Systems
An Analysis of The Differences Between The British and American Criminal Justice Systems
- Categories: Great Britain Justice
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Published: Sep 4, 2018
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Efficiency spotlight report: The impact of recruitment and retention on the criminal justice system
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Press release: Criminal justice system undermined by ongoing problems with recruitment and retention
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Watchdogs warn of worrying levels of inexperience within criminal justice system
Inspectors who scrutinise the work of prosecutors, police forces and prisons have called for answers on why people are leaving their roles.
Victims are being failed by the criminal justice system because of widespread problems with hiring and keeping experienced staff and officers, a group of watchdogs has warned.
Inspectors who scrutinise the work of prosecutors, police forces, prisons and probation services have called for answers on why people are leaving their roles.
The joint report found the four corners of the criminal justice system all had positive examples of recruitment plans which have helped to increase the number of new staff and officers.
But the watchdogs warned “systemic” issues with recruitment and retention across the criminal justice system have “seriously hindered” its ability to deliver a “high-quality service” for victims.
Andrew Cayley KC, chief inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said: “An effective criminal justice system relies on each agency having a sufficient number of staff, with the requisite experience and skill sets.
“Inevitably, this has placed significant burdens on the shoulders of senior staff and ultimately, reduces the quality of service being provided to defendants, witnesses – and to victims of crime.
“To turn this around and deliver positive outcomes, especially for victims of crime, we are today calling on the police, CPS, prisons and probation service to better understand why staff are leaving and regularly review their outputs to guarantee better supervision and support for their staff.”
Inspectors found some “worrying levels of inexperience” across the criminal justice system as well as “significant problems” retaining staff in some areas – issues which were “deepened” in the wake of the pandemic, the report said.
Police, prosecutors, prisons and probation services must “invest more in understanding why staff leave” and “regularly review caseloads, capacity, capability and productivity” to make sure there is “adequate supervision and support” for staff across the criminal justice system, the findings added.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) highlighted how more than 20,000 additional officers had been hired over the past three years in the wake of the Government’s recruitment campaign, as well as replacing a “substantial” number who have left or retired, and said this would help make sure there is a “healthy and thriving workforce”.
A spokesman added: “Policing is a rewarding but tough career. As with any industry, we know that if you are going to leave it is likely to be within the first couple of years, and the number of leavers is around what we had expected and planned for.”
“As the report highlights, we have been successful in growing our legal cadre and continue to do so by recruiting more legal trainees and crown prosecutors.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “As a direct result of boosting starting pay for prison officers to more than £30,000 and launching our biggest ever recruitment campaign, staffing and retention numbers are improving, with an extra 1,400 prison officers in place since last year.
“We have also recruited an extra 750 additional frontline probation staff, part of our extra £155 million investment every year into probation to reduce caseloads, steer offenders away from crime and keep the public safe.”
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Racism and criminal justice
Rebecca Roberts explores the social and historical context to disproportionality in the criminal justice system
In February 2015 I had the privilege of participating in a conference on ‘ Police Corruption, Racism and Spying ' from which many of the papers in this issue of cjm originate. We heard powerful accounts of the shape and impact of policing activities. One of the core themes was the role that racism plays in how criminal justice agencies often respond to and focus attention on black and minority ethnic people. The purpose of my contribution was to attempt to set criminal justice activities in context, highlighted how the interconnectedness between racism and discrimination by the police, courts and prisons is neither unique, nor surprising. This article draws on and develops the points I made in my speech to the conference.
Black on black crime?
Back in 2007, Will McMahon and myself were troubled by the political narrative about ‘black on black crime', exemplified by the following quote from Tony Blair:
What we are dealing with is not a general social disorder; but specific groups or people who for one reason or another, are deciding not to abide by the same code of conduct as the rest of us … The black community – the vast majority of whom in these communities are decent, law-abiding people horrified at what is happening – need to be mobilised in denunciation of this gang culture that is killing innocent young black kids. But we won't stop this by pretending it isn't young black kids doing it.
(Tony Blair, 2007)
We examined the evidence and data relating to the experiences of young black men in the criminal justice system and wider society. After looking at the data, we didn't accept claims made by politicians and other commentators that young black men, or the ‘black community' were the problem. The ‘problem', more often than not, seemed to be racism, surveillance and a society that creates problems and barriers for people. Black and minority ethnic people experience problems – they are not the problem.
While the shape of the debate about race, crime and justice has morphed and shifted since we first started looking at this area in 2007, the pattern of over-representation of black and minority ethnic people in the criminal justice system has continued with increasing numbers of Muslim people involved in it. The Young Review published its report, Improving outcomes for young black and/or Muslim men in the Criminal Justice System, in 2014 which looked at the experiences of black and Muslim men in the criminal justice system and highlights disproportionality in the prison system:
- 13.1 per cent of adult prisoners self-identify as black, compared with 2.9 per cent of the over 18 population recorded in the 2011 Census
- Muslim prisoners account for 13.4 per cent of the prison population compared with 4.2 per cent in the 2011 Census
- In prison, black or mixed origin service users are subject to higher rates of adjudication, spend more days than average in segregation and are more frequently subject to the use of force
When examining the experiences of children and young people in prison, survey results published in the 2013/14 Annual Report from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons indicate that of children in young offenders institutions – 41 per cent were from a black or minority ethnic group, and 22 per cent were Muslim.
Ethnicity, harm and crime
The mainstream understanding of criminal justice is that criminal justice picks up the most dangerous individuals in society. That it targets attention on the criminals and protects victims. That it prevents crime from taking place and makes society safer. This is wrong on all accounts.
The US scholar Jeffrey Reiman, in his 2004 book The Rich Get Richer and Poor Get Prison, has described criminal justice as a ‘carnival mirror', reflecting a deceptive picture of reality:
If criminal justice really gives us a carnival mirror image of'crime' we are doubly deceived. First, we are led to believe that the criminal justice system is protecting us against the gravest threats to our well-being when in fact the system is protecting us against only some threats and not necessarily the gravest ones. We are deceived about how much protection we are receiving and thus left vulnerable. The second deception is just the other side of this one. If people believe that the carnival mirror is a true mirror – that is they believe the criminal justice system simply reacts to the gravest threats to their well-being – they come to believe that whatever is the target of the criminal justice system must be the greatest threat to their well-being.
In Reiman's idea of the ‘carnival mirror’, we find that ‘crime' is considered to be the real and important issue for society, while inequalities in health, financial harms and economic hazards and state inflicted harms are seen as comparatively minor and almost inevitable.
Changing the focus
In 2008, the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies published the discussion paper Ethnicity, Harm and Crime within which we used the term ‘ethnic penalty'. We found Lucinda Platt's term ‘ethnic penalty' very helpful; she used it to explain poverty and ethnicity in the UK.
By ethnic penalty we mean a penalty or inequality in certain aspects of life (for example, earnings) that exist even if a person from an ethnic minority has the same background as a white person. It is a penalty or disadvantage experienced because of their ethnic background. This suggests an underlying racism and discrimination embedded in our institutions and day to day interactions. The ethnic penalty is, therefore, a product of racism and discrimination.
Matt Ford has revisited and updated the data, publishing a series of online articles from the Centre's website. In this issue ofcjm he reproduces this data and details ethnic penalties in a range of social policy areas. Across a range of institutions, agencies and social practices, something is happening that BME results in people facing a series of barriers and obstructions across their lives.
What we are seeing is a mixture of thinking and unthinking, intentional and unintentional prejudice and racism that is acted out by and impacts upon a diverse range of people in multiple ways. Importantly, this isn't about just being poor. Or only having fewer educational qualifications. Or being unemployed. These problems are connected and cumulative. They are experienced in higher rates amongst black and minority ethnic people and are caused, aggravated and compounded by racism and discrimination.
The data we are looking at tells us that barriers exist, but the important point about the ethnic penalty is that it is more than discrimination or racism. Discrimination can affect tangible outcomes such as employment, wages and school exclusions. It can also affect your psychological and physical wellbeing. It affects how the world relates to you, and how you relate to the world.
This isn't just a problem of police and criminal justice. It filters through a range of organisations and institutions. Policing does not operate in a ‘bubble'. It responds to and is driven by outside factors. The disproportionate punishment of black and minority ethnic people and the experience of the ethnic penalties build up throughout the life course. We are talking about a range of interconnected and related inequalities in education, employment, health and punishment. In particular, in terms of criminal justice, young black men (and increasingly so for young Muslim men) are frequently identified as different or dangerous and experience greater obstructions and barriers.
This is a contemporary problem that also has a historical context. The current focus and activities of the criminal justice system and the racism and inequality inherent to it has deep roots in the UK's history of colonialism. A history rich with exploitation and the enslavement of people across the globe – without which this country's wealth, health and relative economic success would not have been possible.
In the USA, clear connections have been made by activists about the connections between slavery, its abolition, and the emergence of a criminal justice system that has criminalised and incarcerated black communities at a horrifying rate. The relationship between the history of slavery and contemporary punishment has been documented very well.
So what about the UK? Historian, J M Moore has written, in this issue, about the use of colonial punishment and violence of the British State and Empire. He documents the use of brutal punishment, surveillance and control of colonised populations across the globe – and how constructions of ‘race' have been used to justify the inequality and exclusion that was created throughout British Empire. Racist stereotyping, he argues, is nothing new and has been used to connect ‘race' and ‘criminality' throughout the history of colonialism to prevent and punish any form of uprising or dissent. He argues that what we are seeing in the criminal justice system in the UK today is simply ‘the empire coming home'.
The over-policing, over-criminalisation and disproportionate punishment of people in this context is all part of our national history that has prioritised the lives and wellbeing of certain groups over others.
What can we do?
I'm not an expert on solutions – but here are two starting points. Simplistically put, the first is in the area of criminal justice, and the second is that of ‘social justice'
- Criminal justice: how can we downsize criminal justice to reduce the harm it causes and obscures?
- Social justice: what can we do to change things so that criminal justice is irrelevant and unnecessary?
The police – individually and institutionally – must be held account for how they operate. This is legitimate given the powers they wield and they should be subject to close scrutiny. Improving mechanisms to bring the police and state agencies to account is important but this will only get us so far.
Alex Vitale, a US commentator has been covering some of the policy proposals emerging from recent police killings in the USA. He says ‘We don't just need nicer cops. We need fewer cops'. I want to see the police protecting people better and responding to violence and harm better. In the longer term, I would like to see a radical scaling back and dismantling of the police. The police should not be the primary agency empowered to tackle neighbourhood and social problems.
In an article on the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies' website, Tim Hope has argued that the uniformed police service should merge with community health, ambulance and fire services to become a civil harm-response service with the delegated task of protecting and supporting victims of crime. I'm interested in exploring further community led ways to deal with harm and violence. Creative Interventions in the USA have drawn up toolkits for community-based anti-violence strategies that seek to increase safety without resort to punishment or police. We should resist over-policing and, for example, support campaigns to keep police out of schools.
The point I want to make here is that we need to push for change within criminal justice and outside of criminal justice. We need to support ways to build individual and community capacity for tackling violence and disorder – and responding to harm. We need to make criminal justice irrelevant and unnecessary.
I also mentioned ‘social justice' - and one dimension of this is redressing the balance in terms of inequality. One argument put forward by Myerson and Smith in the USA is for an economic programme to tackle wider racism, inequality and discrimination. They say ‘We'll need an economic program to make #blacklivesmatter' and put forward the following suggestions:
- True full employment (A government-funded job guarantee. Direct money to communities that need it most – fixing up buildings, caring roles of children and elderly, building decent homes. Set a minimum wage for this)
- Universal basic income unattached to employment
- Tax overhaul
- Baby bonds (Close the racial wealth gap: A trust fund at birth that matures at 18: everyone born into a ‘wealth poor' family – below the median net wealth position would be granted a trust fund. Lowest quartile would receive in region of $50k to $60k)
At the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, we are involved in projects that seek to improve and reform some aspects of the criminal justice system – for example prison conditions and probation practice. However, we are also deeply committed to a longer term vision of a society where criminal justice and punishment is relegated to the history books.
For a long time, criminal justice reformers of all political persuasions have convinced themselves and others that criminal justice can be fixed. With this comes a certain level of pessimism – about the future scope for social change. It is essential that, in the here and now, we make things better for those people caught up in the criminal justice system. But the racism and inequality experienced by people in the criminal justice system is part of a wider societal problem that needs naming. Racism is not part of the mainstream debate. Racism exists at an individual as well as institutional level. It has not yet been solved or fixed.
These are complex problems, rooted in historical events, political decisions and what is often a serious public apathy to serious inequalities and harms. There are reasons to be optimistic. I am optimistic that the future can and will be better. I don't believe in ‘golden ages' of the past that we should aspire to return to. Some things were better. Some things were worse.
We need to be informed by the past and be ambitious about the future. It is important to keep challenging the system and identify ways to resist injustice and build short term and long term solutions.
Rebecca Roberts is Senior Policy Associate, The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies
EU AI Act: first regulation on artificial intelligence
The use of artificial intelligence in the EU will be regulated by the AI Act, the world’s first comprehensive AI law. Find out how it will protect you.
As part of its digital strategy , the EU wants to regulate artificial intelligence (AI) to ensure better conditions for the development and use of this innovative technology. AI can create many benefits , such as better healthcare; safer and cleaner transport; more efficient manufacturing; and cheaper and more sustainable energy.
In April 2021, the European Commission proposed the first EU regulatory framework for AI. It says that AI systems that can be used in different applications are analysed and classified according to the risk they pose to users. The different risk levels will mean more or less regulation. Once approved, these will be the world’s first rules on AI.
Learn more about what artificial intelligence is and how it is used
What Parliament wants in AI legislation
Parliament’s priority is to make sure that AI systems used in the EU are safe, transparent, traceable, non-discriminatory and environmentally friendly. AI systems should be overseen by people, rather than by automation, to prevent harmful outcomes.
Parliament also wants to establish a technology-neutral, uniform definition for AI that could be applied to future AI systems.
Learn more about Parliament’s work on AI and its vision for AI’s future
AI Act: different rules for different risk levels
The new rules establish obligations for providers and users depending on the level of risk from artificial intelligence. While many AI systems pose minimal risk, they need to be assessed.
Unacceptable risk AI systems are systems considered a threat to people and will be banned. They include:
- Cognitive behavioural manipulation of people or specific vulnerable groups: for example voice-activated toys that encourage dangerous behaviour in children
- Social scoring: classifying people based on behaviour, socio-economic status or personal characteristics
- Biometric identification and categorisation of people
- Real-time and remote biometric identification systems, such as facial recognition
Some exceptions may be allowed for law enforcement purposes. “Real-time” remote biometric identification systems will be allowed in a limited number of serious cases, while “post” remote biometric identification systems, where identification occurs after a significant delay, will be allowed to prosecute serious crimes and only after court approval.
AI systems that negatively affect safety or fundamental rights will be considered high risk and will be divided into two categories:
1) AI systems that are used in products falling under the EU’s product safety legislation . This includes toys, aviation, cars, medical devices and lifts.
2) AI systems falling into specific areas that will have to be registered in an EU database:
- Management and operation of critical infrastructure
- Education and vocational training
- Employment, worker management and access to self-employment
- Access to and enjoyment of essential private services and public services and benefits
- Law enforcement
- Migration, asylum and border control management
- Assistance in legal interpretation and application of the law.
All high-risk AI systems will be assessed before being put on the market and also throughout their lifecycle.
General purpose and generative AI
Generative AI, like ChatGPT, would have to comply with transparency requirements:
- Disclosing that the content was generated by AI
- Designing the model to prevent it from generating illegal content
- Publishing summaries of copyrighted data used for training
High-impact general-purpose AI models that might pose systemic risk, such as the more advanced AI model GPT-4, would have to undergo thorough evaluations and any serious incidents would have to be reported to the European Commission.
Limited risk AI systems should comply with minimal transparency requirements that would allow users to make informed decisions. After interacting with the applications, the user can then decide whether they want to continue using it. Users should be made aware when they are interacting with AI. This includes AI systems that generate or manipulate image, audio or video content, for example deepfakes.
On December 9 2023, Parliament reached a provisional agreement with the Council on the AI act . The agreed text will now have to be formally adopted by both Parliament and Council to become EU law. Before all MEPs have their say on the agreement, Parliament’s internal market and civil liberties committees will vote on it.
More on the EU’s digital measures
- Cryptocurrency dangers and the benefits of EU legislation
- Fighting cybercrime: new EU cybersecurity laws explained
- Boosting data sharing in the EU: what are the benefits?
- EU Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act
- Five ways the European Parliament wants to protect online gamers
- Artificial Intelligence Act
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