What Is the Definition of Criminal Justice?


Criminal justice is defined as the group of practices, policies and courts designed to uphold social responsibility, deterring and mitigating crimes and enforcing penalties against those who are found guilty of committing crimes. The criminal justice system is comprised of three major components that work together in tandem to see the criminal justice process through from beginning to end. Here is an overview of each major area.

Local Law Enforcement

  • When a crime is committed, the local police will be the first responders and the first step in getting the criminal justice process under way. The process begins by the police investigating the crime and finding probable cause to arrest a person for that crime. Once probable cause for arrest has been established, local law enforcement will take the person into custody where he will be incarcerated until a bond hearing is set before a judge. This hearing is to see if the person is able to post a monetary security bond with the court as a promise to return at a later date to answer to the charges. If no bond is granted, the person will remain incarcerated until his trial date.


  • The court system is the next step in the criminal justice process. A judge or a jury is responsible for hearing the facts presented in the case from both the prosecution and the defense during the trial phase. The judge or jury then reaches a verdict of guilt or innocence after all evidence has been presented by both sides. In the case of a guilty verdict, the judge or jury will level a penalty to the offender in the form of fines, community service or incarceration. In the event that an offender enters a guilty plea to the court, the trial process is waived and goes directly to the penalty phase.


  • Once a person is found guilty and the sentencing is handed down, the penalty phase is initiated. The penalty can include varying degrees of incarceration, but also monetary fines as well as capital punishment. Jails and prisons are both parts of the corrections department, as are house arrest, parole and probation. The goal of the corrections department is to act as a deterrent for the commission of future crimes and to help with the rehabilitation of convicted criminals.

Three-Year Statistics

  • Statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice show that more than 60 percent of convicted criminals who are released from their incarceration sentences each year will be arrested again within three years and that 51 percent will be reincarcerated due to violations of the parole conditions of their previous sentences.

Other Statistics

  • Every day there are roughly 2 million inmates incarcerated in the United States and more than 13 million are incarcerated at various times over the course of a year.


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