1. What is the criminal justice system and how does it affect criminals?

What is the criminal justice system?

  • The criminal justice system is the set of agencies and processes established by governments to control crime and impose penalties on those who violate laws. There is no single criminal justice system in the United States but rather many similar, individual systems. How the criminal justice system works in each area depends on the jurisdiction that is in charge: city, county, state, federal or tribal government or military installation. Different jurisdictions have different laws, agencies, and ways of managing criminal justice processes. The main systems are:
  • State: State criminal justice systems handle crimes committed within their state boundaries
  • Federal: The federal criminal justice system handles crimes committed on federal property or in more than one state.

  • The criminal justice system is comprised of three major institutions which process a case from inception, through trial, to punishment. A case begins with law enforcement officials, who investigate a crime and gather evidence to identify and use against the presumed perpetrator. The case continues with the court system, which weighs the evidence to determine if the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If so, the corrections system will use the means at their disposal, namely incarceration and probation, to punish and correct the behavior of the offender.

What is the lifestyle of incarceration?



  • Generally, it can be said that jails are smaller facilities that usually belongs to the local (county level) authorities even though there are still jails that are covered by state and federal control. Detention centers, in general, are larger facilities that are often regional to national in scope or coverage.
  • Almost all cells in Queensland correctional centres are single cells which contain a bed, shower and toilet. You are responsible for keeping your cell clean and tidy.
  • You may keep in your cell:
  • prison-issued items, such as toiletries, clothing, footwear, bedding and sometimes a television
  • personal items, such as clothing (underwear and socks), writing paper, pen, bible, photographs and a watch
  • extra books and study material, a cassette/CD/radio or other items that have been approved (depending where you are located and your security classification).


  • While in prison it’s important you maintain links with your family and friends, so we encourage you to receive visits from them.
  • A prisoner is entitled to one non-contact visit per week but if approved a prisoner may have up to 2 hours of contact personal visiting time each week—either 1 2-hour or 2 1-hour visits each week—and perhaps other special visits. This is in addition to visits from your legal representatives or official visitors. However, not everyone can visit; people with a criminal record may not be allowed to visit you.
  • Visitors must apply and make a booking to visit you, prove who they are and follow prison rules and regulations during the visit.

  • Although jail time might seem like a distant possibility for most people, incarceration rates in the United States are steadily rising. One study published in the journal Pediatrics found that 41% of young adults have been arrested by the time they are 23. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reports that 6.6% of people serve time in prison at some point in their lives, and the statistic rises to a shocking 32% for African-American men. More than half of inmates are diagnosed with a mental health disorder.

Mental Health Care Behind Bars

  • Jails and prisons are required to provide basic health care for inmates, but the quality of this care varies greatly. Often, prison-based mental health care focuses on stabilizing, rather than treating, inmates. A person experiencing hallucinations or psychosis might get medication to control the most severe symptoms, but people with anxiety issues, depression, posttraumatic stress, and other mental health conditions that don’t cause radical changes in behavior may go untreated. Prisoners rarely, if ever, get therapy or comprehensive treatment, so mental health issues that were previously controlled with medication and therapy may get much worse during incarceration.

Prison and Trauma

  • Even for the most hardened criminals, prison can be a scary place. The DOJ reports that 70,000 prisoners are sexually abused every year, and assaults, fights, and other acts of violence are common in a prison setting. But violence isn’t limited to inmates; prison guards work in a high-stress environment that can increase their likelihood of becoming violent. With little hope for reporting abuse by guards, some inmates may endure verbal abuse, threats of physical violence, and even severe attacks. Women inmates are at an increased risk of being sexually assaulted by jail and prison guards. This ongoing climate of trauma can create anxiety, depression, phobias, and PTSD in prisoners who previously had no serious mental health issues.

Lack of Support

  • Prisoners are, by definition, cut off from the rest of society, and their access to supportive friends and family may be limited. Many jails have instituted mail policies prohibiting letters and magazine subscriptions, and these policies can eliminate prisoners’ ability to communicate with and receive support from loved ones. Phone calls from jail can be costly, and prisoners from impoverished backgrounds may have families who can’t afford to cover the costs of collect calls, however infrequent. There’s little hope for getting any support in prison, as many prisoners are concerned more with gaining respect and avoiding fights in a relentless pursuit of safety. Support from loved ones can play a critical role in helping people overcome mental challenges, and isolation can increase a person’s risk of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.


Why do people become criminals?

  • Social scientists have tried to figure out why people become criminals, and they have, over the years, developed so-called “theories of deviance.” These theories range from one that explains gang behavior (differential association), why minorities or disadvantaged groups tend to commit crimes (anomie), and how people labeled as criminals go on to create more crimes (labeling theory). Finally there is the theory that says that people who commit crimes simply lack the normal restraints that the rest of us operate under (control theory).


Next thing I plan to do is to keep doing more recherche but narrowing down more what is the most reliable and information that with be needed or beneficial for the presentation. I’ve done a lot of recherche so far and feel confident that there is not much more recherche that I must do. Next time I am also going to organize my sections of recherche more, so it will be easier to put into my own words and easier to make the presentation. 


Original Post

Hey Sienna,

Very detailed first round of research! Your points are very clear and easily understood by the readers. I find it oddly surprising that prisoners only receive around 1-2 hours of visitation hours a week since I've always thought they received more. Perhaps in your next round, you could look into the effects of the child due to the parent being incarcerated. Does the parent and child have a chance to communicate? or what happens if the child is placed in foster care (single parent) and there is a loving family who would like to adopt? Is the parent forced to sign the child away? Anyways great first research round on butterfly effect! Keep up the great work and here are some links for the next round.

Hey @Sienna Saunders (Charles Best)!

It was really interesting to learn about your topic you are researching! Personally this is a topic I do not know too much about! What was a really good point and you covered this was the question: 

Why do people become criminals?

A possible direction you could look into is how the system works in Canada. Since there are differences between countries and how certain laws and rules work in the justice system. 

There are some who require to be restrained from the society that can cause harm, but as humans we have the capacity for change. Is it possible that the system rolls it over and makes it worse so the chance to have the capacity for change never emerges?

I came across an article once about Sweden and they take an interesting "nice" approach to their prisons. Would this be a sustainable idea? 

Nice going! I hope those links can jump start forward into your research

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