Is The American Justice System Failing?

There are people out there that are fully confident that the justice system is failing, however they are not aware that there are indications that state otherwise.  In my opinion the judicial system is not failing, but is actually succeeding.

As the history of the justice system shows, small incremental steps are responsible for the status quo of the justice system and the future of it as well.  The media has a lot to add to this ever-growing phenomenon as they present high profile cases on national TV and airwaves.  There is always room for improvement and the critics will always find something wrong with the justice system.

In the colonial era of the American justice system there were harsh corporal punishments for crimes committed due to human nature.  Sexual crimes like adultery were awarding certain freedoms of personal punishment to the ‘victim’ while the offender was often hanged, drowned, or stoned (Roth, 2005).  We as Americans don’t have to worry about that now.  For example, such behavior may have a lot to do with divorce proceedings (in some states), but we won’t drown the offender nowadays. Would we?

It wasn’t until about the 1950’s that the states became more united in the betterment of the justice system, which was based on federal laws (Roth, 2005).  The changes put in place to make fair decisions, not based on social class and skin color, were not really made until the second half of the twentieth century.  Not everyone will be truly satisfied just yet, as their perspectives are not kindhearted or acceptable by their olden standards of ‘”back in my day.”

In the constant battle to become the favorable side, the justice system handles cases of minuscule and mammoth proportions.  The media is fully aware of that and usually tries to stick its nose deep into the case of ________ vs. ________.

The Enron trial and the ex-Governor George Ryan trial are some splendid cases to delve into.  Sure they are filled with political propaganda and connections reaching your neighbor’s affinity with large pay offs, but these cases are well propagated and gain ratings for the media stations.

What else do these cases have in common?  They were tried under the scrutiny of the media and justice critics, but, these and other cases were certainly proved before the courts, punishments were handed down, acquittals were administered, and everyone had their 15 minutes of fame.

I personally think that a lot of Americans don’t have the slightest idea of how times have changed for the better since the inception of first laws nearly four centuries ago, or for that matter, since they were born.  I think that the amount of complaints geared towards the justice system is strictly a person’s lack of knowledge about its history.  I am certain we would want to have an absolutely fair justice system with drive-thru windows and weekend/evening hours, but the reality of this nebulous dream should be defunct at its root.

There is no absolute fairness in this world, as humans do make errors.  Yes, computers make errors, too.  We don’t want to leave our freedom to a machine, do we now?  I think a little interest in the history of the criminal justice system will definitely shed some light on the naysayer and perhaps will allow that person to appreciate the gigantic improvements made to the justice system.  That way, their freedoms and rights can be advocated.


Roth, M. (2005). Crime and Punishment: A History of the Criminal Justice System. Belmont: Thomson-Wadsworth

Article written by Radek Gadek

Radek holds a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University. He is currently doing consulting work and runs this blog to provide relevant information on criminal justice degrees, colleges and related careers.

17 comments… add one
  • If this is so please explain the number of wrongly convicted people that are locked up in our prisons today? I am a criminal justice major and have not found any proof thus far that the judicial system is on the up and up. Please tell me why are there so many wrongfully convicted, false accusations, etc???
    These things are slipping through the system all across the country. Why???

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Cases like Alan’s do happen to slip by the judicial system, and I bet that at least daily there are judgments made that put wrongfully accused in jails and prisons nationwide. I don’t refute this fact, but I strongly believe the CJ system is trying to change and is heading towards the positive realm of administering the law. I know that for that one person, their families, and others involved it is extremely hard to cope with the idea of prison when the feeling of helplessness fills the soul — heck, I feel the feeling is indescribable. It’s a long road ahead, but I believe that as each day passes we’ll be able to better tune the system to reduce the number of such occurrences.

  • aimee

    The justice system has failed-it isn’t failing, it’s far past that-when the poor and middle class are going to prison for a very very long time as the rich who can hire good attorneys walk away w/little more than a fine-the prisons in Wisconsin are operating at 300% capacity at last tally! If you think about what that means-it’s appalling! It means that 300 prisoners are crammed into a non-climate controlled ‘room’ where there is room for 100-half of them are sleeping on a concrete floor in the dead of winter-the air inside is so cold the can see their breath indoors-then some also have to take cold showers on top of this as the “water heater is broken” yeah-whatever! And do you know who is in these prisons? Not hardened criminals for the most part by a long shot-it’s your children-they are being locked away in prison for minor infractions that would have gotten us grounded when we were younger–but prison,,NO way! My child spent 6 years behind bars in this state starting at 18 and ending at 27 when he put a bullet in his head-great system we have here-his criminal record looks awful at first glance, but what appears to be a ‘burglary’ was a case of his friends and himself walking into another friends home when he wasn’t there-there was no theft-and no criminal intent-but judges want their names in lights and cops want their brownie points-so guess who got 3 years in prison! yep! the public defender didn’t even know why he was there! kept mixing him up w/another kid…now that’s justice for you-plead out-plead guilty and they might go easy on ya! sure thing assho*&–needless to say, out in 3 years and then on paper for another 3–guess how long the average felon lasts on paper? 3 MONTHS!-yep, then back in prison no matter how minor the infraction-in this case he went to a local gun range w/his girl–stupid? Absolutely! A crime that should and did result in 3 more years in prison??? Not hardly, but again that lovely public defender did his job of NOTHING! Timothy K in waukesha county-look him up ob ccap-he’s a real piece of ‘work’. At any rate-the gun was rented and used legally and never left the gun range-he fought the charge but then again, a public defender = no attorney or legal representation at all–they are only there to add to their resume…they are NOT out for the best of their client in any way shape or form. So back to the extremely overcrowded and understaffed prison and back on the honor roll of the state-the po’s are no better-his was a miserable excuse for a human being-a huge, rolling tub of wendys’ milkshakes and fries that cared nothing for ‘keeping her charge out of prison’ as they are supposed to do-only to get him off her caseload so her huge rear end could settle a bit more deeply into her chair–But I digress-he was released and back on paper–except this time when he screwed up and made a stupid mistake-he decided it was best to put a bullet in his head rather than put ‘me’ through the system again [meaning visits, drives, calls etc.) Why did he do this? Because he had committed a crime and knew that in Wisconsin’s injustice system, the third “felony” in a certain period of time = life in prison…for WHAT? Now tell me how broken is our justice system-which translates to “Just us” meaning it goes well if you have money-not so well if you do not-and to all of the judges, public pretenders, pos and police in waukesha wi-thanks for nothing, you are all lousy at what you are supposed to be doing and your only excuse for work = playing cowboys and indians and forcing a scared kid to blow his head off…congratulations!

    • heidi

      Ouch, Aimee – I feel so bad for you after reading your story…and I’m so sorry for your son. My condolences. I also have had major legal issues in wisconsin (I can’t even bring myself to capitalize the name of that state as I don’t believe it deserves the honor…) and I can sense that a lot of what you’re saying is true – with the egos of the cops, lawyers, judges and POs. I don’t know how long ago this happened in your life, but I can tell you from my own experience – try to get through the anger first. Then – don’t stop talking about it. There are a lot of people who will listen and hopefully try to help change the system there. But when you’re defensive and angry, it makes them defensive as well.

      I was sexually assaulted by a cop in altoona. I believe he did it to provoke me. They then tased, brutalized and maced me – just for fun, it seemed. I reported the whole incident – and was prosecuted…for reporting it. I was charged with a crime for reporting a crime – that’s the way the system in wisconsin works, I guess.

      I had the same type of “public pretender”. Although I feel she truly believed me, she still did everything she could to convince me to take a plea. I think she was actually scared for me, as they were threatening 13 years of extended supervision. That would have made the sentence 18 years of my life – for defending myself against an assault and reporting it. That’s all I did.

      I’ve since moved – and I’m so much happier. The further I get from wisconsin, the more I realize how fascist that state really is. Your story din’t surprise me at all. I’ve read worse. There was a young man by the name of Michael E. Bell in Kenosha who was actually executed by police. His parents even hired a forensic team to prove it. They still can’t get justice…because in wisconsin, the cops review themselves.

      All I can say is – try not to let it ruin your life. Do what you can to change things…but don’t let it make you miserable forever, if you can help it.

  • KimBerley A. Martino-Reed

    Innocent people are convicted more than we know in a time of DNA, other forensic evidence, jurors that prefer to hurry their verdict, vs whether they take their vow to convict only if there’s not a doubt in their mind (s), as well as the guilty going free. What the person who vouches how wonderful our justice system is fails to mention that depends on many factors, and should not. One, do you have money? If so, you have the best Chances of a correct verdict than those stuck with a non-caring public defender. You’d think they’re not getting paid the minimal work many of them put into defending their poor clients, oh, but they do get paid. Public defenders aren’t working pro-bono, they just aren’t getting paid ‘as much as a paying client, per hour or via detainer fees, et certera. We see it all the time. Same crimes committed by rich stars who are avoiding any jail time while the poor are sent away some for quite some time. So I fail to agree our justice system Is as good as it should be especially here in the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. I’ve seen our failing system up close and personal. But no one hears about the nobody’s — no we only hear about the big cases on tv (any good story) and how the rich whether athletes, actors, BIG WIG CEO of a fortune 500 company and the Paris Hilton’s of the world, the OJ Simpson’s Of the world. The man got away with cold blooded murder of 2 people. Anyone with a Brain watching that trial from Even before it began, from this supposed innocent man fleeing causing a lengthy pursuit through California highways… But he was innocent. Why run? Please!! Somethings very wrong with out justice system. And there are some states and towns within those states that have it worse or better than others. Lets not forget that. Another important thing to factor in when you throw out your opinion on our screwed up justice system. So we can forget about all the wrongs within our justice system because look how much better things are now. In what sense? Crime rates being down? Please! Give me a break. Wish I
    Knew all the laws so many cops and lawyers dont follow or fail to
    Mention especially to the poor —

  • Debbie

    The circumstances of this past week has shown that although we have come a long way with making good changes to the Justice system, we still have a long way to go. Everyone has to admit that Casey Anthony got away with a crime. The jurors that have spoken so far have stated that they did not believe she was innocent and yet they returned a Not Guilty verdict. Changes need to be made so that this kind of travesty NEVER happens again. One of the jurors even admitted that the jurors were concerned with the sentencing phase of the verdict which may have led to the verdict they gave. I believe that failing to report your child missing for 31 days is Child Abuse and yet they did not return a guilty verdict on that charge either. Some of these jurors even had criminal records themselves. Based on this trial, there are so many changes that need to be made and a multiple of petitions that need to be submitted to attempt to make these changes. I would love to know where a person starts (who they can call or write) to try to make these changes. If anyone knows, please send me an e-mail as I am determined to find a way to change the system and grant justice for all.

  • Republic

    The new American slogan must be, “No attorneys, judges or lawyers allowed. A slogan not just in words, but one that is lived to the extreme everyday!

  • Rich P.

    I am the system, I still crucify those- or toss them in a cell for nothing. And how I just luv to let those who need their well deserved punishment, instead a free go at things to carry on whatever they may for their life; yes to those who are marked with my favor, and don’t even know it- Thank You.
    Yes, I am still alive and rule, you are my entertainment, my suckers.

  • heidi

    To say that we’ve come so far from the colonial era of justice is a lil naive and pathetic to use as an example, IMO. That’s like saying how improved our techniques in medicine are from the dark ages. I agree there has been much advancement – but it’s not nearly enough. And for the perversion of it that has occurred, especially over the past several decades (as others have pointed out – you only get as much justice as you can afford) it has actually gone down-hill in many aspects. Criminal “justice” has become a business in this country – one that preys on poor people. How does that help anything – except to advance the elite’s agendas?

  • jim

    Criminal justice system is one of the biggest wastes of US money, manpower, and resources, and as only feeds the Egos of those who are running it, while making no real progress toward rehabilitating our people on either end of the spectrum to any mid to long term resolutions. The criminal justice system at street level i.e. local police, probation people, parole people, local courts, etc. are in the business of sabotage, cat and mouse pissing matches, playing the role of the wicked stepmother as opposed to actually using more positive productive methods. The system manipulates private industry, and business in the interest of keeping individuals who have made mistakes from rejoining society it seems regardless of how hard an individual is trying to again live a normal life. In my opinion, the more heart and diligence, and good will, is demonstrated the more the individual is treaded upon and or trespassed upon. Stereotype in the media is another issue, which I dont think the average person really thinks about too much, which is probably why it feels the need to resort to these other aforementioned trespasses, etc.

    The same is true for the homeless, displaced, and indigent, who all wish to live a normal life. Unfortunately they are the innocent victims here, as they are subjected to unfair treatments, instead of helped. All the while in the economic disaster Corporations, and small businesses alike, are playing the same game as before only not on such a grand scale. Instead of huge estates and mansions, there quaint little 2 story in the suburbs can now suffice. They probably think it had to get worse before it could get better, but in my honest opinion, it will never again get better, and will only get worse, and worse, and worse, as time goes on, bottom line lets face it, America is no longer the main street storybook that it once was; just look around you isn’t the implosion obvious? Maybe this is what accounts for the failure in Washington, in the last 4 if there was failure at all. I really don’t know.

    And meanwhile again, the masses of people who are driven down to below poverty level on the streets, because of the way the justice system game is played do what they can or not much at all, or I guess in some cases re-offend, now how does this help our economic society and well being in any respect? Whatever? Perhaps the next 100 years will tell the ultimate story.
    So which direction are we headed, or do we really care.

  • Steve

    There is no justice in their system, the whole system works upon fraudulence and presumption. And the workers of this inequity are more than aware of this, they are amused by the fact that they have tied the hands of people and stripped them of the right to justice. If you think I’m wrong, because you work for this corruption. Then give up some kind of proof. You tube IS open 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week. If you are unable, or unwilling, then the people can only PRESUME that you are fully aware of your disgraceful secret, and all look forward to the days of your end.

  • JN

    With the “War on drugs”, “War on Terror”, the latest version of the NDAA, and all of the executive orders being handed down, there is no longer a justice system. We are slaves to the state, bottom line.

  • Asche

    Just look at the advertisements on this got a police other words do you have money? haha I think the evidence is in clear sight what runs our justice system, and its not justice, its money, our justice system is a fraud, nothing but thieves, liars, crooks, and immoral souless individuals that care nothing about right or wrong, they only care about putting the money theyve been stealing in there pockets and locking up innocent people while openly violating theyre constitutional rights,this so called criminal justice system is the biggest joke, these are hostage takers. and yes they make a lot of errors, for theyre own benifit, and they dont apoligize for theyre mistakes, because prosicuters, police and judges think they are gods, not humans therefore they feel they dont have to admit to making mistakes,. they change theyre own rules whenever they feel like it in their game, as they torture the innocent, not to mention for the guilty, logic, science,psychology and common sense, says that locking them up for a while or until they die isnt going to solve any kind of problem..therefore it is not justice, its not a correction, we neeed problem solvers not thugs and thieves, money and justice equals injustice its as simple as that. this guy was probably paid by the government to try to cover up all of those many other sites overloading online about how truly injust it really is.

  • Darkfonzie

    This Radek guy is such a joke and obviously is out of touch with what’s really going on in the “failed” court system in this country. I have personally been “victimized” by our system of so-called justice all because I was falsely accused with no evidence whatsoever and the court system didn’t care because I could not afford legal representation. They tried to make me look like a monster, exaggerating facts, district attorneys telling lies to argue their case ect. Radek needs to come up with some better references because this information is totally wrong…

    • Radek Gadek

      Darkfonzie, this “Radek guy” published his college essays and took a certain point of view in this particular one — staying on the periphery and comparing the evolutionary steps of our justice system — rather than delving into the many successes or failures of the justice system. It’s a conversation starter.

      I still think it’s much more improved than it was in the past, but I must agree with you that if I or someone I know were mistreated by Lady Justice, I sure would be furious myself.

      Thanks for your input..

  • hoag1964

    The judicial system in this country is a joke, period. It only works for those who can afford to make it work for them. Examples, OJ Simpson, Robert Blake, Ted Kennedy and Michael Jackson, murders and a serial child molester whose trials were all media circuses and they all walked because everybody involved was more worried about looking good for the cameras and calculating their rates for interviews and book deals to even care about justice being served. I could have come up with better lies than these idiots did. OJ, he claimed the LAPD planted his blood at the scene. Where and when, exactly, did they obtain this blood from Simpson? He had to have been aware that they were drawing blood, wouldn’t he? Blake claiming he left his wife in the vehicle because he forgot his gun inside the restaurant they ate in and she gets shot dead as soon as he gets out of the vehicle? Jackson had a stewardess testify that he had her pour wine into a soda can and give it to a child and he denied any knowledge of the incident? Kennedy, drunk, and leaving Mary Jo Kopechne to die in a car he drove off a causeway into a pond, that landed upside down in the middle of the night, which he was fortunate enough to escape from but did not notify authorities until they found the car and pulled Mary Jo’s dead body out the next morning. If he wasn’t a member of one of this state’s most powerful and influential families he would have been tried, convicted and sentenced almost immediately. I may have been born in the morning, but it wasn’t yesterday morning.
    I see local court actions in the newspaper here, crack dealers and heroine dealers caught with quantities in school zones and the charges are dismissed more times than not. There were 3 men who were charged with 9 counts of possession of pistols without proper permits (each count a mandatory 1 year sentence in prison without a chance of parole as mandated here in Massachusetts by the Bartley-Fox bill) and 7 counts of armed assault in a dwelling and every charge was dismissed. They evidently had to have had enough money to hire lawyers good enough to get them off because as Darkfonzie stated, if they couldn’t have afforded legal representation they would have been locked up for a long time. I have also seen people who were charged with driving without a license or on a suspended license get sentenced to between 10 and 30 days at the house of correction, again, this happens more times than not. I fail to comprehend that drug dealers and armed thugs are less of a threat to society than someone driving without a valid license.
    The judicial system is as corrupt today as it ever has been, money talks, and the more of it you have the less the guilt and the more lenient the punishment if any punishment at all, and anybody who feels they must disagree has either never been in the real world or is part of the problem.

  • Wilson

    The justice system is not what it should be because of plea bargains for crimes a person is known to be guilty of, especially murder. If it is a fact a person is guilty of such a crime, why plea bargain? makes no sense. Put a guilty person away for life period. Why give one person 10 or 20 yrs and another life with no parole for the same offense. Taking ones life is taking ones life period. Also young people know exactly what they are doing, and to make excuses for them such as in the Chuck Limbrick case is really sad. What about we who have lived under the same conditions and turn out to be good honest people. Murdering a parent just because a kid cannot have their way is no excuse, the justice system is making bad judgements in to many cases.

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