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Posted on June 8th, 2012, by

The existing criminal justice system is often criticized and is viewed as imperfect system that needs substantial improvements. On the other hand, it is argued that the existing criminal justice system, being imperfect, is the only effective system that can exist and function in the modern society. At any rate, it is often argued that there are no alternatives to the existing criminal justice system which could be at least as effective as the current system.

Nevertheless, it does not necessarily mean that the existing criminal justice system should remain rigid and unchanged. In stark contrast, the necessity of its improvement is obvious since, in spite of all the efforts of the contemporary courts and law enforcement agencies, the crime rates are still high and the problem of crimes has not been solved yet. Consequently, it is necessary to make more efforts to minimize the crime rates and improve the current situation in the society through the improvement of the existing criminal justice system to make it function as not a system of punishment but also as a system of prevention of crimes. In this respect, the analysis of works of such specialists as Jeffrey Reiman, namely his book “The Rich Get Richer and The Poor Get Prison”¯, is particularly important because it helps better understand the existing problems of the criminal justice system, their causes and, therefore, find possible solutions and ways of the improvement of the existing system.

Book summary

Speaking about the book “The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison”¯ by Jeffrey Reiman, it is necessary to underline that the author is basically focused on the socio-economic implications of crime, its major causes and perception of crime in the modern society. At the same time, one of the central places in his book occupies the problem of the treatment of crime and the existing inequality on all levels of decision making process in relation to crime and criminals. Basically, the author argues that the existing criminal justice system is not simply imperfect but it is rather unjust and unfair. What is more the presumably equality of all people in regard to the criminal justice system and laws does not actually meet the real situation in the contemporary society. In such a way, the book raises a very serious problem of the inequality existing in the criminal justice system and treatment of crimes and criminals.

However, first of all, it is necessary to briefly dwell upon Reiman’s definition of crime in order to better understand the current problems of the criminal justice system and the necessity of its solution. In fact, the author defines crime as an intentional activity that causes misery and suffering of people, activity so dangerous that we must use the extreme methods of the criminal justice system to protect ourselves (42). In such a way, the author agrees that the problem of crime should be solved and he even admits the use of the most extreme methods of its solution but, at the same time, he remains to be very skeptical about the possibility of the existing criminal justice system to solve this problem effectively.

In fact, Jeffrey Reiman argues that the existing criminal justice system suffers from the problem of double standards which has affected practically all levels of the criminal justice. To put it more precisely, the author underlines that, in spite of the efforts of the existing criminal justice system to clearly define the notion of crime, there are still a substantial category of acts which are not perceived by the contemporary criminal justice as crimes, while, objectively speaking they actually are crimes. At any rate, Jeffrey Reiman is convinced that the existing criminal justice system is extremely loyal in relation to actions of the ruling economic and political elite. He argues that the actions of representatives of the elite may be potentially classified as crimes but, since the existing criminal justice system is unwilling to interpret their actions in such a way, than people committing such acts remain practically unpunished or their punishment does not meet the significance of their acts.

As a result, Jeffrey Reimans metaphorically compares the actions and policy of the contemporary justice system to the “creative art”¯ or “carnival mirror”¯ when the system of double standards makes the criminal justice system actually unjust and, therefore, ineffective because it punishes only those who are unable to protect themselves because of their low socio-economic status while the doubtful acts, which the author tends to define as crimes, or as acts that looks like crimes are not identified as such by the criminal justice system, of the ruling elite are ignored by the criminal justice system (Reiman, 158).

In this respect, it should be said that the author sees the origin of such a problem of inequality in the treatment of crimes and criminals by the criminal justice system in the existing economic disparity and inequality which is really striking and tends to polarize the contemporary society. To put it more precisely, Jeffrey Reiman indicates to the fact that this inequality is present at each of the four major decision making points in the criminal justice system. The inequality is present on the level of the creation of laws, which, according to the author, basically serve to protect upper classes from the attacks of lower classes and marginalized groups which threaten to their material wealth.

Also, the author reveals the facts that criminals that are arrested and charged are predominantly representatives of lower classes, though crimes are actually committed on all levels. Furthermore, he argues that the same situation is observed on the level of trial and conviction. Finally, he states that even the sentences given out reveal the extent to which the existing inequality is enormous. In fact, the author emphasizes that basically it is representatives of the lowest classes of society that are arrested, tried and sent to prison and, what is more, sentences are often very severe, though the criminals that commit crimes are often forced to act illegally simply to survive, while, in contrast, actions of the ruling elite often are not even classified as crimes. But even though a representative of an upper class is charged he has an army of counselors and lawyers who readily protect him and ruin all the efforts of the criminal justice system to punish him for the crime committed. As a result, such people can hardly be punished but even if they are sentenced they serve terms absolutely irrelevant to the significance of crimes they commit because the social harm these crimes cause are often more serious than the harm caused by representatives of lower classes.

Critical evaluation of the book

Obviously, the book is very important for the understanding of the major problems of the existing criminal justice system and basically the arguments of the author are well supported by evidences. As a result, his accusations of the existing criminal justice system in the unequal treatment of crimes and criminal resulting from economic inequality sound quite convincing. In actuality, it is hardly possible to disagree with the author but, nevertheless, it is necessary to point out that from purely legal, juridical point of view his arguments, being quite convincing, cannot be supported by factual evidences. For instance, if the author believes that some action should be treated as crime and it may even meet the basic definition of crime, but this act is not and has never been defined by the criminal justice system as crime than Reiman’s arguments will be inconsistent because he initially speaks about acts that are not crimes, while his personal assessment of these acts may be highly subjective and does not have any judicial value.

On the other hand, the information concerning arrests, trials and sentences of criminals analyzed in the context of socio-economic position of the criminals really reveals the fact that there are really few cases of the sentencing of representatives of upper classes. In this respect, it is naturally possible to argue that the level of crimes committed by representatives of lower classes is substantially higher because they may be caused be socio-economic factors and the social environment of criminals but, it does not necessarily mean that the representatives of the upper classes do not commit crimes at all. Obviously, the author is absolutely right when he states that upper classes or rich people simply use laws in their interests and protect their wealth and property, while lower classes or poor people are vulnerable not only to social injustice but to the criminal injustice too because the existing criminal justice system serves as a machine of control and protection of the ruling elite from lower classes which constantly threaten to the position, property, wealth and health of rich people. In actuality, this situation is quite natural because the ruling elite uses all possible means to control people and make them obedient and with the help of laws and criminal justice system it can maintain its power.

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