The criminal justice system monitors the behavior of community members via government agencies such as the police/sheriff's departments, the courts and the state and federal prison systems. Law enforcement personnel patrol communities to ensure that neighborhoods remain safe, and U.S. citizens may report crimes they witness or personally experience. Suspected criminals are given fair trials in U.S. courts, and if convicted, sentenced to rehabilitation or incarceration.
Throughout American history, the criminal justice system has swung from being extremely punitive to extremely rehabilitative and is now settled somewhere in the middle. While the perspective on offender rehabilitation has changed through the years, it is clear that many offenders remain in the community, including those on probation or parole. For minor infractions such as crimes involving minimal property losses or possession of small amounts of drugs, rehabilitation may be the best option. Community supervision can monitor criminals while helping them to becoming productive members of society.
According to a study conducted by the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, punitive sanctions such as fines, community service and probation can effectively deter future criminal behavior. However, some crimes are much too serious to justify rehabilitation efforts. In these cases, punishment in the form of lengthy prison sentences is seen as the best option. Judges consider several factors when determining whether to sentence a defendant to prison, including age, criminal history, family background and support system, concerns of victims and interested parties, attitude and counseling needs.
Victim considerations and restoration are an additional goal of the criminal justice system. If the defendant owes restitution to the victim, it will be paid directly to the court. The court will then forward the money to the victim. Victims have the right to be heard at sentencing and parole hearings via written or verbal statements (or both). They may also speak with probation officers to provide input or request general information.
Finally, the criminal justice system is responsible for overall community safety. Children should be able to play outside without fear and families should be able to take evening walks. Even though this idyllic view tends towards wishful thinking, Americans view safe communities as a right. Taxes paid to law enforcement personnel are the responsibility of all citizens.