Comparative Evaluation of Criminal Justice Systems
In this paper, I will analyze criminal justice systems of the three countries: the United States, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. Analyzing criminal justice systems of these states, I will identify the major issues related to the performance of these systems and draw parallels between them. Identifying similarities and differences in criminal justice systems, I will determine the innovative ways that may be implemented to the criminal justice system in order to improve its performance. Focusing on the major issues in the United States criminal justice system, I will examine the ways the similar issues were treated in Switzerland and in the Netherlands.
One of the most urgent issues in the criminal justice system of the United States today is prison overcrowding. The national effort against the illegal use and sale of drugs has led to the new wave of this problem. In order to manage this issue, the Federal Government needs to double its prison capacity, despite the fact that correctional facilities in the United States are already overwhelmed with criminals. The situation results in multiple confrontations between the prisoners and the law-enforcement authorities, which worsens the living conditions of the facilities. The given problem cannot be ignored, and its solution must be found as soon as possible in order to prevent further degradation.
One of the most interesting facts related to that matter is that the war on drugs is funding gangs. In other words, due to illegality of drugs and their inaccessibility, they are highly desirable for people and, therefore, are monopolized by criminals. Monopolization of such a product guarantees a supplier high profit and secure funding for expanding operations. This brings drugs to a shadow society, making drug-users the outcasts, who are being judged for their habits. Professor Daniel DAmico (2013) provides some insightful information, noting that fully twenty-four percent of inmates in the United States prisons were non-violent drug offenders in the 1990s. Today, there are more people in the United States correctional facilities than in any other country, both as a percentage of the nations population and in counting total numbers, reaching 1.6 million people. The number of non-violent drug offenders in prison has reached 354,727 in 2010 (DAmico, 2013). Therefore, it can be suggested that the war on drugs resulted in a significant increase in the United States prison population. In order to solve this problem, the Federal Government has to change its methods of fighting with drug users and suppliers.
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One of the possible solutions for dealing with overcrowded prisons may consist in changing policies related to drug use and realization. Finch (1993) states: criminal justice system requires nothing less than a new battle plan in the war on drugs. The real enemy is a much smaller force: drug users and sellers, who hurt other people by committing non-drug crimes. I agree with this statement, because I think that the United States drug policy is very unclear in terms of targeting, and unjustifiable in terms of punishment. Modern drug policy seems to address every citizen, who uses any kind of non-prescribed preparation, whether it is heroin or sedatives bought in a drugstore without doctors prescription. It also does not matter whether this person makes any harm to himself/herself or to the society. In addition, prison terms for drug use are unreasonably long. The mentioned fact, indeed, contributes to prisons overcrowding.
Baker (2011) suggests another possible solution for this problem: One possible solution would be to expand treatment programs within the community for low-level offenders such as the mentally ill and those addicted to drugs. It is a good solution in relation to impact the war on drugs has on the prison system. However, the most effective solution would be decriminalizing drug use completely. Malak (2012) supports this standpoint, substantiating it with her own research, saying that countries with policy of decriminalization of drugs show lower statistics on HIV/AIDS rates and number of incarcerated citizens. Switzerland and the Netherlands are among the countries that have reduced the states disbursement on prisons and that enjoy a sharp cutback in crime percentage.
In comparison to the United States, criminal justice system in Switzerland is relatively lenient. Regarding drug abuse, Switzerland has a harm reduction policy that consists of the four pillars: prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and enforcement. As we can see, enforcement is the last stage in the criminal procedure related to the drug offense. Government of Switzerland has developed several programs directed towards prevention and reduction of drug abuse harm. For example, the ProMeDro program (1991) had several important objectives, such as preventing people from becoming drug dependent, providing therapeutic treatment and social integration to the drug users, and improving the health of the drug users (Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, 1998). In order to achieve these goals, the program provided such measures:
Prevention measures aimed at the young people and awareness campaigns to prevent them from drug use;
Patient management and treatment in order to help the drug users to deal with addiction;
AIDS prevention and social reintegration measures for the drug users;
Training programs for professionals and for people acting as mediators;
Development, co-ordination, and publication of the scientific researches on drugs;
Evaluation of projects and measures in the fields of prevention, patient management, and treatment aimed at identifying the gaps or errors and highlighting any progress achieved;
Development of documentation and information services regarding drug abuse normally provided by the Swiss Confederation (Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, 1991).
The ProMeDro program showed its efficiency and was expanded later. The final evaluation report on the efficiency of this program concluded that drug treatment for heroin addicts improved their health, as well as their quality of life, participants illegal use of heroin and cocaine decreased, and the users involved in the program committed fewer crimes (Aebi, Killias, Ribeau, 1999). These measures significantly decreased the number of drug offenders in correctional facilities, improving the health of drug users at the same time.
The Netherlands has similar with Switzerland drug policy and much milder system of penalties than in the United States. The Dutch drug policy focuses on the reduction of the risks and hazards of drug use, rather than on the suppression of all drugs. The central aim of the Dutch government is the prevention of social and individual risks caused by drug use. According to this principle, the risks and policy measures must be coordinated and justified. Policy measures must also consider the risks of legal recreational and medical drug use. Repressive measures against distribution of drugs must be a priority; however, the unjustified measures must be recognized and suppressed (Grapendaal, Leuw, Nelen, 1995).
Drug policy of Switzerland and the Netherlands proved to be more effective than that of the United States. In this perspective, the United States criminal justice system should be revised taking into account the innovations of such countries as Switzerland and the Netherlands. Implementation of similar programs will help to deal with several issues at the same time such as prison overcrowding, drug offense, and drug-related crimes.
The suggested solutions might be very effective, when mildly implemented into the drug policy. However, I think that the US Federal Government is, unfortunately, not ready for such significant changes yet. The American society may also be unprepared to such radical revision of the existing drug policy. It makes decriminalization of drugs a good, though distant, perspective. However, less radical methods discussed in this paper may be applied today, perceptibly improving the condition of American prison system. I believe the most efficient solution for now would be expanding treatment programs for those, who are addicted to drugs. I hope the Federal Government will consider these approaches in the short run.