For time eternal, the question of right and wrong has endured. In the modern day, this question has evolved into the criminal justice system, and within this system, a consideration of how victims of crime can be made whole once again, how the system treats individuals of different racial groups/cultures and how the law can be fairly and equally enforced within these parameters is critical to understand. This research will focus on these various topics.
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From the very beginnings of what we would call a criminal justice system, the general purpose was punitive- to inflict punishment on those who were found to be guilty of committing crimes and finding ways to remove those individuals from society for as long as possible. However, this arrangement still left the victims at a psychological, financial and legal disadvantage. It was from this dilemma that the concept of restorative justice began- a way for victims of crime to be, in essence made whole again after crimes are inflicted upon them (Hopkins, 2004).
What has been seen in the development of a system of not just criminal justice but also restorative justice is an integration of restorative justice into the policies of the correctional system, the roots of which began in the modern day in Australia in the early 1990s for youthful offenders. These individuals were assigned to what were designated as Youthful Offender Teams, or YOTs. Within the YOTs, the focus of the correctional process that these offenders went through had two distinct purposes: first, to compensate crime victims in whatever way is required-financial, emotional, psychological; second, to rehabilitate the offenders to avoid recidivism. This system of restorative justice seemed to be more compatible with non-violent crimes, as the perpetrators of these crimes seemed more amenable to making amends for their wrongdoing (Hopkins, 2004). Ironically enough, however, not all youthful offenders are helped by the correctional system, as there are still racial issues within the juvenile justice system, even with all of the progress that has been made from such ideals as restorative justice.
There has been a massive amount of rhetoric over the years regarding the interrelated issues of race and juvenile encounters with police, conviction for crimes, and subsequent punishment, but one staggering statistic puts this issue into perspective: in the United States, nearly 2/3 of juveniles in detention centers across the nation are people of color- mostly African-Americans and Latinos, although within the actual juvenile population of the nation, white juveniles outnumber those of color nearly 2 to 1 (Joseph, 1995). Therefore, the question begs as to why there is such a disparity in these numbers?
There is strong evidence to suggest that environment is the link that associates race, juveniles and police/criminal justice exposure. While juveniles of color are far less numerous than white juveniles in the overall population, the numbers of the former that live in poverty stricken and/or urban areas is far greater than the latter (Cose, 2005). When forced into a daily routine of deprivation and the chaotic life that typifies poor city life, youths frequently fall under bad influences such as the false allure of gang activity, the deceptive appearance that dealing in illegal contraband is a way to advance oneself in society, and the frequent lack of positive role models (Roberts, 2004). Because there are more minority youths to be found in the urban setting than non-minority youths, the minorities are exposed to negative stimuli more frequently and have less opportunity for the education and mentoring which builds strong moral character, all of which in turn results in them having more encounters with law enforcement and the corrections system as a whole.
The problem of a bloated criminal justice system appears to have a strong tie to the issues of cultural and racial diversity. Regardless of race or culture, individuals in a diverse society tend to migrate toward their own ethnic/racial group to the exclusion of others, and it is within these groups that gang mentality often sprouts as does other types of criminal-type activity (Chancer, 1994). While the evidence suggests that cross-cultural criminal justice does not appear to be the most effective approach, the integration of cultural diversity within the criminal justice system does. For example, in the African-American communities across the US, there have been countless examples of African-American law enforcement personnel serving as positive role models for the youth in their communities, and thereby being able to reach out to the youths before criminal activity occurs. This has manifested itself in community outreach programs and the like (Joseph, 1995).
In conclusion, what has been seen as a result of this research is the fact that cultural diversity is an essential ingredient in effective criminal justice systems and can serve as a safeguard against juvenile delinquency as well as the fact that restorative justice does work in some situations. From a larger viewpoint, perhaps the most important point to take away from this research is that the justice system needs to evolve along with the increased diversity of the modern society.
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