Sample Criminal Justice Paper on Criminal Justice Trends

Criminal Justice Trends

At the heart of correctional facilities is the rehabilitation of the convicted criminals in such a way that on their reentry to the larger society, they are productive and responsible members, reformed through the correctional system. The rehabilitative ideology of correctional facilities is the main feature that drove the establishment and running of correctional facilities around the world and the U.S. in particular. However, over the years, particularly beginning the 60s, the ideology began its road to extinction in the U.S., turning largely to a punitive system and with it eroding the public’s confidence in the ability of the system to rehabilitate inmates. From the high incarceration rates in the second half of the 20th century, prisons and other correctional facilities continue to see high incarceration rates—although not as high as in the 80s and 90s (Stinchomb, 2005). Additionally, the facilities experience a trend towards accreditation and privatization of the correction facilities, as well as a high economic burden for running the many correctional facilities and high population therein. The future, however, may see declining prison population, shaped by the economy, the aging population of prisoners, as well as the public opinion on crime and incarceration.

The genesis of mass incarceration and the subsequent explosion in prison population began in the first half of the 20th century with the indeterminate sentencing paradigm. According to Neal and Rick (2013), the paradigm gave judges discretion in sentencing criminals in accordance with the crimes committed. At the moment, there were no policies that put caveats on the length of sentences for different crimes committed. Ideally, therefore, judges had the discretion for who went to probation or prison, and for those who went to prison, the sentences they (convicts) would serve (Neal & Rick, 2013). The discretion also extended to parole boards, which could decide how long an inmate would spend on parole, relating it to the sentence passed by the judges (Neal & Rick, 2013).

The indeterminate paradigm accorded the judges and parole officers free reign in the customization of sentences largely relying on their like or dislike of the offender, and not on the offense committed. Under the circumstances, the judges and parole boards ) had the freedom of considering the possibilities of rehabilitation, provision of incentive for good behavior and self-improvement, in addition to the anticipated impacts on the safety of the public during decision-making for determination of punishment for the different offenders (Neal & Rick, 2013). Ideally, the makeup of the policy gave the two the power to reduce or prolong sentences, basing the decision on the scrutiny of the individual and the convicting evidence, and not on guidelines stipulating punishment for offense committed (Neal & Rick, 2013).

The paradigm, however, came under fire from activists. Objection to the paradigm took two stances, where on one hand the argument was that it (indeterminate paradigm) gave too much power to the judges and parole officials eventually leading the two to serve their personal interests with bias on specific races (Neal & Rick, 2013; Stinchomb, 2005). The other stance posited that indeterminacy allowed sympathetic judges and parole boards to risk public safety by releasing dangerous criminals into the streets earlier than the law intended (Raphael & Stoll, 2013; Stemen & Rengifo, 2011).

The public outcry brought changes in the correctional system through the eradication of the indeterminacy paradigm. The changes came in the late 70s, which after repealing the indeterminate paradigm, put in place new structured and determinate justice and correctional policies (Neal & Rick, 2013; Raphael & Stoll, 2013; Stemen & Rengifo, 2011). The structured system introduced sentencing commissions, which were responsible for developing sentencing guidelines for different crimes.

The abolition of the indeterminacy paradigm and the establishment of the structured determinate policy had great impact on the nation within the correctional facilities and justice system. Despite the many ways of getting into prison, among them fresh convicts, parole violators, and transfers from juvenile to adult correctional facilities among others, the passage of the new order saw a surge in the number of prisoners who got admission into prison. The passage of the “truth in sentencing” policy, which required that prisoners spend the better part (85 percent) of their sentences in prison led to the increase in prison population (Austin et al., 2000). Few people got parole after the “truth in sentencing” policy in addition to other restrictions on granting parole, adding to the prison population, especially after the “War on Drugs.” The “War on Drugs” was a politically motivated push that required tough measures and rules to be meted on drug offenders and drug-related crimes (Travis, Western & Redburn, 2014).

Past trends in the criminal justice system had spillover effects on the rate of incarceration even after the reduction in the number of violent and escalating crimes that triggered the upsurge in incarceration rates. The truth in sentencing policy remains at play even today, largely following the war on drugs policy. The war on drugs has remained one of the main reasons for the surges in prison population since it increased prison population by 576 percent between 1980 and 1999. On numbers, the same period saw the number of inmates growing from 329,821 to 1,254,547 (Austin et al., 2000). The number of inmates has remained high even after a go-slow on the war on drugs, even though there is marked decrease when compared to the height of the war on drugs.

Part of the reason for the continued high prison population is recently enacted polices that continue to keep prisoners incarcerated, while bringing in more. The truth in sentencing policy remains in play today. The policy saw the expansion of prisons through state funding to help accommodate even more convicts and ease the crowding in prisons. Aside from the truth in sentencing policy is the mandatory minimum sentence aimed at convicting criminals charged with crimes related to drugs and other violent crimes (Travis, Western & Redburn, 2014). The policy propagates a system where anyone convicted of the said crimes get a minimum stipulated sentence, with no option of parole. The purpose of the policy is to make the sentence harsher and the imposition of the sentence more certain (Travis, Western & Redburn, 2014).

The three strikes law and life without parole are other additional trends and polices enacted recently and guiding the correctional and criminal justice system. Enacted in 1993, the three strikes dictates life imprisonment with no possibility of parole for individuals convicted of violent crimes for the third time (Austin et al., 2000). The justification and purpose of three strikes and the truth in sentencing policies hinge on the punitive ideologies of deterrence and incapacitation (Austin et al., 2000). Thus, by the delivery of swift, sure and extreme punishment (life imprisonment without the possibility of parole) to habitual criminals, the action serves as a lesson to other potential habitual criminals against committing any crime (Austin et al., 2000).

Much of the current trends in correctional and criminal justice system are because of the policies enacted in the 80s.  The expansion of prisons since 1982 and the current trend towards the privatization of prisons is a trend that will continue into the future. While there are 158 private correctional facilities in the US; 43 in Texas, 24 in California, 10 in Florida, and 9 in Colorado, the number of the facilities will continue to grow in the future as it is not only a lucrative venture (1$ billion in revenue), but also as the number of inmates continues to grow (Austin &Coventry, 2011).

Public opinion will be a huge influencer in the running of correctional facilities. In retrospect, public opinion was responsible for the change of the indeterminate policy; this will continue into the future as other forms of rehabilitation aside from incarceration. Moreover, prisons will see a surge in the number of staff to include doctors and nurses, psychiatrists and teachers, as well as life coaches, as the correctional and justice system takes a more rehabilitative rather than punitive approach.

While the new trends will work to bring overdue changes in the criminal justice system, they will have managerial and budgetary consequences on the correctional system, as well as on the larger criminal justice system.  Managing an expanded staff will especially be tasking to managers in the correctional systems. Moreover, the management will also mean recruitment, hiring and training of the new staff (Minor et al., 2009). Even more challenging for the management is the fact that the new staff will have different professions, diverse culture, age, gender and backgrounds. Bringing such diversity in a staff to work as a team is especially challenging.

While personnel management is challenging, the increased staff and inmate population will have great impact on the budget.  Minor et al. (2009) contend that correctional facilities spend considerable amounts on the recruitment, selection and training of personnel from a limited budget. The increased population will also mean expansion of the facilities. Estimates indicate that a correctional facility requires $280-$350 million for its construction (Gottschalk, 2011). With no source of income, only relying on government grants, housing the population and construction of new facilities within the correctional facilities for rehabilitation will be a daunting task for managers.

The impact, however, will not end at correction facilities’ managers; the future trends will have far-reaching effects across the criminal justice system. There will be need to send old convicts to specialized institutions, where they can serves their sentences. Moreover, with public opinion questioning the rehabilitative nature of incarceration, there will be need to have intermediate correctional centers, especially for petty offenders (Gottschalk, 2011). The need stems from the argument that bundling petty offenders with hardcore criminals runs the risk of radicalizing the petty offenders, where they graduate to hardcore crime on release from prison. The trends also have the potential of affecting parole boards with expanded mandates, particularly for the petty offenders. Leniency for petty offenders will mean an expansion of supervision from parole officers, as well as community service officers responsible for supervising offenders on community service




Austin, J. & Coventry, G. (2011). Emerging Issues on Privatized Prisons. Washington, DC: National Council on Crime and Delinquency

Austin, J. et al. (2000). The Use of Incarceration in the United States. American Society of Criminology

Austin, J. et al. (2000). Three Strikes and You’re Out: The Implementation and Impact of Strike Laws. Washington, DC: Department of Justice

Gottschalk, M. (2011). The past, present, and future of mass incarceration in the United States. Criminology & Public Policy, 10(3), 483-504.

Minor, K., I. et al. (2009). Understanding staff perception of turnover in corrections. Professional Issues in Criminal Justice, 4(2), 43-57.

Neal, D. & Rick, A. (2013). The Prison Boom & the Lack of Black Progress after Smith & Welch. University of Chicago

Raphael, S., & Stoll, M. (2013): Why Are So Many Americans in Prison? New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation

Stemen, D., & Rengifo, A,. F. (2011). Policies and Imprisonment: The Impact of Structured Sentencing and Determinate Sentencing on State Incarceration Rates, 1978 – 2004. Justice Quarterly, 28(1), 174–201.

Stinchomb, J., B. (2005). Corrections: Past Present and Future. Alexandria: American Correctional Association.

Travis, J., Western, B., & Redburn, S. (2014). The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press