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Criminal Justice Reform essay

Spencer K. Surratt
Southwestern College
Criminal Justice Reform
Professor Dale Hager
June 21, 2020
In today’s world, Criminal Justice reform has become a hot topic. If you turn on any news station
you will see an example of the issues surrounding American law enforcement. The proposal of
reform to the criminal justice system has been relevant for decades now. It seems the same issues
that were seen in the early 1990s, are still being observed in 2020 with the latest news stories
surrounding names like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmed Aubrey, and Rayshard Brooks.
Many leaders in the criminal justice profession will claim that law enforcement has seen drastic
improvements over the past decade. If this is true, why are we still dealing with what seems to be
the same issues of the past? Has there been any suggestions made to improve the criminal justice
profession? What are some ways that we can use these suggestions to make our career field
operate more efficiently and effectively for the community? In this essay we will be examining
some of these suggestions and ways we can incorporate them. By the end of this reading, I hope
for all of us to have a better understanding of the issue surrounding the criminal justice
profession and how we can improve them.
Criminal Justice Reform
The criminal justice system has been noted to be flawed from various perspectives across
the nation. Whether the topic is harsh court proceedings, law enforcement practices, or mass
incarceration, there seems to be a pattern of issues that need to be addressed. The only way for us
to truly address these issues we must first understand the cause of them, why current policies
don’t work, and what are the best polices to replace them. Criminal justice is a very broad system
that requires detailed solutions to truly change the dynamic of how it operates.
Mass Incarceration
Mass Incarceration in the United States has been a huge topic regarding the criminal justice
system. There has been issues ranging from overcrowding, to human rights violations that affect
the individuals placed at its mercy. There are also many beliefs that the prison system has a high
percentage of minorities compared to Caucasians. “The United States incarcerates a
disproportionate number of black and Latino individuals relative to their composition in the U.S.
population. The causes and correlates of this racial discrepancy in the criminal justice system are
manifold. Studies suggest that a variety of factors contribute to racial disparities in criminal
justice involvement, including law enforcement practices, neighborhood crime rates, offenders’
socioeconomic status, and state and federal-level sentencing policy.” (Galston, 2016). Why is it
that we see a difference in criminal justice proceedings between races? Could the sentencing
process in the court systems be a major contributor to overcrowding of prisons? There are many
reasons that overcrowding could be a major issue in the criminal justice system. With this being
an issue, what could be a way to fix this? Mass Incarceration has affected communities and
families across the nation. With this being the case, the only way to fix this issue is to address it
on a major level. In order to achieve real change on this matter. “That’s why, in advance of the
2020 presidential election, we have again asked leaders representing communities most harmed
by mass incarceration, as well as top policymakers, to offer their solutions. And we’ve urged
them to think big. Each author has contributed an essay highlighting their own ideas for reform.
Neither the Brennan Center nor I agree with all the content of the essays in this book, and each
author would likely say the same. The Center sought to create a nonpartisan forum for sorely
needed ideas to be publicly shared.” (Waldman, 2019). Reform on this issue will only come as
we advocate for it through changes in law and sentencing. With the United States having what
some may call an egregious sentencing process, we must bring attention to it and push for
change through legislation.
Law Enforcement Practices
Another issue in the criminal justice system is police brutality and police misconduct both on and
off duty. For example, there has been many cases concerning shootings involving unarmed
citizens. Many times we see how these shootings affect the public, and how the officer involved
would be seen as performing based on the training they received. Due to this, these officers often
times rarely receive harsh sentencing. An example of this would be the case involving Oscar
Grant. “Oscar Grant was shot dead by Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer Johannes Mehserle
in 2009 in Oakland, California. Mehserle and other police officers had been responding to
reports of a fight, and arrested and handcuffed Grant and several others in a subway station.
Grant was cuffed, unarmed and lying on the ground when Mehserle pulled out his gun and shot
him in the back. In court Mehserle claimed he thought his gun was his Taser. He was sentenced
to two years in jail and let out on parole in June 2011.” (Harris, 2011). This incident was a major
blow to communities throughout the United States. Although we had never seen or met Mr.
Grant, It felt as if he was a dear relative when the news broke regarding his terrible story. As
time moved on we expected for these matters to get better. However, since this incident, there
has been many others like it, with many deaths and few charges to follow. Why does it seem that
there is a pattern with police misconduct? Even with federal investigations into police
departments, we see that there are problems that need to be fixed to improve the effectiveness of
the officers on patrol. Sometimes however, departments seem to not honor the findings and make
changes for the better. “The Minneapolis Police Department failed to fully adopt changes
recommended by federal officials to weed out bad cops, local critics said. At least two of the
officers involved in Floyd’s fatal encounter, including the officer who knelt on his neck, had
complaints filed against them in the past. At the same time, the department continued to use
choke holds, allowing the controversial practice in some circumstances—even as an option for
lethal force.” (Lartey, 2020). The Minneapolis Police Department has had many issues in the
past concerning police misconduct. There was even an incident with another man named
Philando Castile, who was shot dead by police officers during a traffic stop with his girlfriend
and young daughter in the vehicle. Mr.Castile notified the officer that he was a legal gun owner
and that he had his firearm on him so that the officer could be aware of this. The cop however
still fatally shot Mr.Castile as he told him “Don’t reach for it”. Mr.Castile responded calmly “I’m
not reaching for it” and seconds later shots were fired by the officer. This was just another
example of how there are issues with police misconduct in this department and many others
across the nation. Even with the issues being addressed, this department decided to ignore the
findings and this resulted in another unnecessary death by the hands of officers. I believe the one
way to correct this issue based on proposals from many professionals is to revamp the training
that officers receive. As a military police officer, we are not only trained on how to deal with
situations that involve high stress. We also are trained that once we have an individual in our
custody, we are responsible for their wellbeing. I believe this is something that could already be
included in the training of police officer, but that it needs to be amplified and drilled into the
minds of these officers so that we don’t have other incidents like George Floyd or Sandra Bland.
Many believe that the training surrounding the law enforcement profession is vastly similar to
military combative practices instead of de-escalation techniques. “In most police departments,
paramilitary traditions extend well beyond the academy. Senior police officials commonly refer
to patrol officers as “troops,” chain of command is rigidly enforced, and it’s undeniably true that
many departments have made enthusiastic use of federal authorities such as the Defense
Department’s 1033 Program, which provides surplus military equipment—including armored
vehicles and grenade launchers—to domestic law-enforcement agencies. (Since its inception, the
program has transferred more than $7 billion worth of military equipment to more than 8,000
U.S. law-enforcement agencies; ironically, small-town and rural agencies, rather than large city
departments, have been most likely to request heavy equipment such as mine-resistant
vehicles.)” (Brooks, 2020). While this view may be a little uninformed, it does show the
similarities between these two completely different organizations with different goals and
objectives. With this being so, police departments should refrain from trying to establish
practices similar to combat organizations seeing as their primary goal is to serve and protect the
public. Another reform policy to set into place would be to extend the academy required to
become a police officer. “...police academies should replace the standard five to six months of
training with a two-year curriculum. In addition to the necessary physical, firearms and tactics
training, recruits should take classes that you might typically find in an undergraduate program
— from criminal and constitutional law to sociology, psychology and conflict resolution. A clear
understanding of the nature of the society they will serve, and all its complexities, is fundamental
to any member of a service profession.” (Burkhalter, 2020). Other changes suggested in this
article were to establish a point of entry for executive level positions similar to how the military
requires ROTC or Officer Training School for officer positions. This will assist with appointing
only the well qualified applicants to positions that involve leading junior officers. The current
process of training and promotions have hindered police departments due to the pattern of
misconduct and corruption throughout the chain of command. Placing more effective training
that focuses on protecting and serving citizens will allow these officers to perform better while
on duty. Improving the standards for promotions will allow these departments to promote their
best officers and allow for these officers to further their development by educating and bettering
themselves for future promotions. Having more educated and effective officers in leadership
positions will also improve the in house training and development of junior officers. This will
also ensure that the chain of command of these departments will be led by the officers who are
best fitted for the position. Adopting the principles and the others mentioned before will assist in
making the criminal justice system operate better and eliminate bad practices in the process.
Closing Remarks
The criminal justice system has been under scrutiny for many years now. Through all the
cases and investigations, we have found ourselves repeating history time and time again.
The only way to improve the system is by changing the policies that were set in place that
are a hindrance to the community. By reforming the criminal justice system, we can make
real changes for the better of the community and the police officer who take on the role
of protecting others. “More lawmakers across the country are proposing changes to how
police operate. In the three weeks after Floyd’s death and the ensuing nationwide protests
against police brutality, 16 state legislatures have discussed the issues roiling the country.
As of Tuesday, legislatures had introduced, amended or passed 159 bills and resolutions
related to policing, including bills that were introduced in both chambers, according to
a database compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures, a nonpartisan
association of state lawmakers.” (Li and Lodhi, 2020). We must continue to improve the
criminal justice system at every sign of shortcomings that affect the community and
citizens of the United States. Through our determination, we can build a better future.
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Justice, www.brennancenter.org/our-work/policy-solutions/ending-mass-incarceration-ideastodays-leaders.
Brooks, Rosa. “Stop Training Police Like They're Joining the Military.” The Atlantic, Atlantic
Media Company, 12 June 2020, www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/06/police-academiesparamilitary/612859/.
Burkhalter, Kirk. “Retired Officer: Give Police a Real Education before Putting Them on the
Streets.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 12 June 2020,
Galston, William A. “Criminal Justice Reform: Issues and Options for the next
President.” Brookings, Brookings, 1 Feb. 2017, www.brookings.edu/research/criminal-justicereform-issues-and-options-for-the-next-president/.
Harris, Paul. “US Police Brutality: the Five Worst Examples.” The Guardian, Guardian News
and Media, 24 Oct. 2011, www.theguardian.com/world/2011/oct/24/us-police-brutality-worstexamples.
Lartey, Jamiles, and Simone Weichselbaum. “Before George Floyd's Death, Minneapolis Police
Failed to Adopt Reforms, Remove Bad Officers.” The Marshall Project, The Marshall Project,
29 May 2020, www.themarshallproject.org/2020/05/28/before-george-floyd-s-deathminneapolis-police-failed-to-adopt-reforms-remove-bad-officers.
Lodhi, Weihua Li and Humera. “The States Taking On Police Reform After The Death Of
George Floyd.” FiveThirtyEight, FiveThirtyEight, 18 June 2020,
Wagner, Wendy Sawyer and Peter. “Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2020.” Mass
Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2020 | Prison Policy Initiative,