The Three Components of the Criminal Justice System

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The United States criminal justice system is a system that acts to enforce the criminal laws of the country. In the United States, the criminal justice system is divided into three categories: federal, state and military. In addition to these three categories, each state has separate divisions that deal with adult and juvenile cases. Each of these systems is comprised of three major components.

Law Enforcement

The first component of the criminal justice system--and perhaps the most important and dangerous--is law enforcement. This includes the local police department with all of its police officers and detectives. These people head the criminal justice system because they are the ones responsible for finding/capturing individuals who break the laws set forth by the state, federal government or the military. Law enforcement personnel are also responsible for bringing forth charges against perpetrators and ensuring the cases are strong enough to stand up in court.


The second component of the criminal justice system is the court. The court system includes prosecution and defense lawyers, judges and juries. These individuals make sure offenders are given fair trials. Judges, also known as finders of facts, hear the cases and preside over the participants to make sure that all laws are followed while the cases are being tried. Some cases are tried in front of a judge only, while others have a jury of 12 citizens who determine the guilt or innocence of a defendant based on facts brought forth during a trial. A jury may also make a recommendation of what a sentence should be. A judge ultimately decides a sentence unless there are pre-determined sentencing guidelines that need to be followed. Sentencing guidelines are more prevalent in the federal justice system.


The third and final component of the criminal justice system is corrections. The role of this component is to uphold and administer sentences handed down by judges. The corrections system, which is tightly intertwined with the previous two components, is very important and quite large. The corrections component includes jails, prisons, correctional officers, probation officers and parole officers. These individuals ensure that a defendant’s punishment and all of its stipulations are carried out.



About the Author

Theresa Smith began writing in 1998, working on material for employee-assistance programs. She has experience as a counselor and criminal law paralegal. She contributes to eHow, focusing on mental health and legal topics. Smith has a Bachelor of Science in business from Chicago State University and is pursuing a Master of Science in clinical psychology from Columbia Southern University.