Essay Questions

Chapter 1: The Criminal Justice System: An Overview

  1. A key attribute of decision making in the criminal justice
    system 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.
  2. 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 justice system?
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. 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 further chapters.