Chapter 1: The Criminal Justice System: An Overview
- A key attribute of decision making in the criminal justice
is the exercise of discretion by criminal justice personnel (pp. 12-13).
Discretion has both positive and negative connotations and the use and
abuse of discretion has been the focus of extensive research and debate.
A few observers have argued that discretion should be abolished, while
others have argued that discretion should be structured and confined
with specific, published guidelines. Still other criminal justice observers
argue that discretion is a healthy and necessary component of the criminal
justice system and that no guidelines or controls on its exercise should
be imposed on criminal justice decision makers. Discuss these issues
with the students.
- Have the students make a list of the potential benefits and possible
difficulties with the exercise of discretion at various stages of the
criminal justice system. Then, consideration should be given to the
following questions: Should there be any controls on the exercise of
discretion by criminal justice personnel? If not, why not? If so, what
types of control should exist at the various stages of the criminal
- Considering the approach of restorative justice, in what cases and
circumstances do the students feel would be most appropriate, and not
appropriate, for the use of this approach. (p. 26-29).
- Have the students explore the factors that prevent the criminal justice
system from operating as a system (pp. 30-32). Following a discussion
of these factors, identify potential strategies to mitigate these factors
in order to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal
justice system. Have the students identify the potential obstacles to
the implementation of these strategies.
- Compare and contrast the differences between retributive and restorative
justice principles, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of each
(pp. 26-29). Have the students discuss their personal opinions on the
use of restorative justice based on previous exposure to the process.
Has the media strongly influenced their perceptions? If so, how? Are
the students advocates of the use of restorative justice based on their
initial understanding of the process? Or do they think our current system
is doing an adequate job of dealing with offenders as they are processed
in the criminal justice system? Are any students ‘in the middle’
– perhaps supporting the use of restorative justice for some offenders
and retributive justice for others? This discussion serves to introduce
the students to restorative justice, so they can consider its use throughout
the various stages of the criminal justice process to be discussed in