Criminal Justice Degrees Guide

The Main Branches of Criminal Justice

Criminal justice is defined as the "system of practices and institutions of governments directed at upholding social control, deterring and mitigating crime, and sanctioning those who violate laws with criminal penalties and rehabilitation efforts." To accomplish these tasks, the criminal justice system is broken down into three main branches: law enforcement, adjudication and corrections.

The law enforcement sector of the criminal justice system includes the police force that investigates crimes or the possibilities of wrong doing, and makes arrests. They are tasked with keeping the peace, maintaining social order and enforcing criminal laws. While they are not allowed to break the law themselves, they are allowed to employ various coercive and forceful tactics to accomplish their jobs. After a suspect has been arrested, they will more than likely face the next branch of criminal justice.

The second branch of the criminal justice system is the adjudication branch, or the courts system. Courts in the United States are used primarily to settle disputes between parties and administer justice. They are overseen by appointed judges and staffed with court reporters, court officers and attorneys. U.S. courts are also based on the adversarial system, where two opposing parties come before the judge and presents facts, or evidence, to support their claims. Then a jury of unbiased citizens, the judge or a panel of judges will issue the verdict of guilt or innocence against the accused party. If the accused if found guilty and sentenced, they are handed over to the next branch of the criminal justice system, corrections.

The corrections branch includes jails, prisons, probation and parole. It administers and enforces the punishment against those found guilty in court. The most popular form of corrections is prison time, because it removes the criminals from society, it is viewed as retribution for their crimes and it offers them a chance at rehabilitation. Many prisons today offer schooling and vocational training to help improve the lives of criminals upon their release. Others types of punishments include fines, parole, probation, house arrest and capital punishment. Parole is typically enforced upon criminals after they are released from prison. Along with probation, parole often restricts the criminal from engaging in unlawful or potentially harmful activities, including drugs and alcohol.

If you are interested in exploring a career in criminal justice, first review the different branches of the system and learn more about them. Once you have decided which branch best suits your interests or talents, then you can research the various jobs that are available within that branch.