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The criminal justice system involves government agencies charged with the responsibility of solving issues with crimes and other criminal behaviors. Generally in the United States, such government agencies function at the federal, state, and local public levels. In other democratic states, the criminal justice system agencies are incorporated into the legislative, judicial, and the executive arms of the government. These agencies offer various services to suspects, defendants, and the convicted offenders, and they are bound to work interdependently because one agency’s functions affect other agencies. Moreover, the criminal justice system comprises of a variety of components including the police, courts, and the correctional facilities. These components are responsible for deterring crime through arresting, detaining, organizing a trial, and punishing or rehabilitating the offenders. This essay looks into the similarities and differences in the criminal justice systems between the United States and Haiti in relation to the philosophy, the laws, record keeping, the police, courts, and the correctional facilities.

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The Criminal Justice Systems in the United States and Haiti

The Philosophy

Generally, the United States criminal justice system is purposely designed to direct and uphold social control by preventing and controlling crime besides sanctioning criminal offenders with criminal penalties, punishment, and rehabilitation efforts. According to the U.S. Department of Justice [USDOJ] (2012), the purpose of the criminal justice system is clear cut, and it entails law enforcement, defending the interests of the United States both locally and internationally, safeguarding public safety against local and international threats, preventing and controlling crime, and seeking justice for criminal offenders. Moreover, the criminal justice system in the United States is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that justice is fairly and impartially administered to all Americans. As opposed to the United States, the philosophy of the criminal justice system in Haiti has not been clearly stated, but a perusal of the functions of different government agencies indicates that they serve the same purpose as in the United States. However, all indications point to crime prevention and control through incarceration as the principal purpose of the criminal justice system in Haiti (Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, 2011).

The Laws

In the United States, criminal law involves all the rules and statutes created by Congress and state legislators with the aim of preventing and controlling criminal activities, safeguarding public interest, and providing justice to all American citizens. Moreover, criminal law in the United States includes the court decisions, especially in the case of appellate courts, which define and interpret the Constitution with the aim of regulating criminal procedure. Basically, criminal law in the United States is divided into substantive criminal law and criminal procedure. Substantive criminal laws deal with crime identification and classification besides outlining possible penalties for different crimes, while criminal procedure deals with enforcement of the substantive criminal laws (USDOJ, 2012). In comparison to the United States, whose laws are based on English laws, the current criminal laws in Haiti are based on the “Napoleonic Code” borrowed from its former colonial power, France. These laws include the penal code and the criminal procedure code. Therefore, the current criminal laws in Haiti resemble the French law in the 19th century, and thus, they are generally out-of-date. For instance, the criminal laws in Haiti do not provide for the basic civil liberties for the citizens leave alone providing room for the incorporation of international human rights (Albrecht, Aucoin, & O’Connor, 2009).

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Record Keeping

Currently, the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) is charged with the responsibility of collecting, analyzing, publishing, and disseminating data regarding crime, criminal offenders, and victims of crime. Most importantly, the BJS is involved in reporting the operations of the criminal justice system at different levels of the government. Therefore, the data provided by BJS helps policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels in preventing and controlling crime besides providing justice to all American citizens (Bureau of Justice Statistics [BJS], 2012). As opposed to the United States, there is no government agency responsible for collecting and reporting criminal justice data at a national level in Haiti. However, individual cases of criminal behavior are reported at various commissariats across the country. In most cases, the law dictates that crimes must be reported in the jurisdictions where they take place. In the case of foreigners, crimes can be reported at various overseas police stations, which then coordinate with the local police in investigating and making arrests (Embassy of the United States-Haiti, 2012).

The Police Systems

The United States police system has more than 17,500 agencies, including the federal law enforcement agencies, state police departments, special police agencies, sheriff’s departments, and municipal police departments. These police agencies serve a variety of functions in preventing and controlling crimes at the local and international levels. For instance, different federal police agencies are responsible for protecting the interests of the United States against terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking, money laundering, and other international crimes. At the state and local levels, other police departments serve a variety of functions including criminal investigations, arresting criminal elements, maintaining crime records, highway patrols, and operating crime labs among others (BJS, 2012). In Haiti, the Haitian National Police (HNP) serve almost the same functions as their counterparts in the United States, and hence, they are responsible for investigating crimes, arresting criminal offenders, protecting national interests, and providing security to government officials. The only difference is that the HNP is not divided into numerous police departments and agencies as in the case of the United States (Embassy of the United States-Haiti, 2012).

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The Court Systems

The United States court system comprises of the federal and state court systems. While the responsibilities of each court system are separate, the two systems often interact with the aim of solving legal disputes, providing justice to all, and vindicating legal rights. Moreover, courts under the two systems operate in specific jurisdictions and they hear certain types of cases. Generally, the federal courts include the U.S. District Courts, the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal, magistrate courts, bankruptcy courts, and the U.S. Tax Court among others. Conversely, the state courts include Probate Courts, Family Courts, Municipal Courts, Intermediate Appellate Courts, and the Highest State Courts (supreme courts) (United States Courts, 2012). On the contrary, the Haitian court system comprises of two courts including the Peace Tribunal and the First Action Tribunal. The Peace Tribunal hears both civil and criminal cases in specific jurisdictions. On the other hand, the First Action Tribunal is divided into the Correctional Court that deals with serious crimes including robbery and terrorism; the Criminal Court that is responsible for drug trafficking and murder; and other limited jurisdiction courts such as the Civil Court, the Commercial Court, the Labor Court, and the Property Court. As opposed to the United States, trial in Haitian courts is usually overseen by a judge, but a jury may be required for murder cases. Furthermore, the decision of the smaller courts can be appealed to the Appellate Court followed by the Supreme Court or Parliament (Embassy of the United States-Haiti, 2012).

The Correctional Systems

The correctional system in the United States is administered by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which is charged with the responsibility of protecting the American society against criminal elements by confining them under controlled prison and community-based facilities. In most cases, such correctional facilities provide humane, safe, cost-effective, and security services to all offenders besides giving them the opportunity to undergo self-improvement in order to become law-abiding citizens. Currently, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has 117 institutions and 22 community corrections offices across the country. These facilities hold over 217,000 federal prisoners, which is approximately 82 percent of all Americans behind bars. The remaining offenders are held in privately-managed facilities, community-based facilities, and local jails (Federal Bureau of Prisons, 2012). Just like in the United States, the prison system in Haiti is responsible for protecting the society against the activities of criminal elements by holding them in confined environments, whereby they are given the opportunity to become law-abiding citizens. However, there are major differences in the prison systems between the United States and Haiti. Studies indicate that most Haitian prisons violate the basic rights and liberties of the offenders, including various international human rights guarantees. For instance, most Haitian prisons lack basic necessities including food, water, medical services, and medical isolation units for ailing prisoners. Moreover, over 80% of the people held in prisons across the country have not been convicted of any crime, and hence, they are probably being held illegally. Generally, the conditions in most Haitian prisons are cruel, inhumane, degrading, and below the minimum standards (Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, 2011).

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