The effectiveness of the United States' criminal legal system has been questioned and scrutinized by the media and legal analysts for decades. Even with laws to lengthen sentences and to try younger offenders as adults, the overall crime rate in the nation is still on the rise. But why is it that in places like Iceland and Singapore crime
rates are so low yet both countries have very contrasting criminal laws? It has been brought to my attention that Congress will attempt to create an entire new criminal legal system for the states to adopt in an effort to finally make the streets of America safer for its citizens. Assuming that all states will forfeit their own policies to take up the system Congress builds, it is my duty to shed light on the criminal legal system and differing views
of the United States and other countries legal systems and differing views of the United States and other countries of different governments, geographies, and legal systems. I will also explore the common ground they share when prosecuting criminal offenders. The information I will discover will be taken into consideration by legislators when designing a new and improved criminal justice system.
It is first important to take a close look at the crime rate occurring in America. The United States has more citizens in prison than any other country. The incarceration rate of the U.S. is second only to Russia with 666 incarcerated per 100,000. The U.S. constitutes one third of the world's population that is imprisoned while it only makes up five percent population. (Father's Manifesto) The criminal legal system is slightly different in every state. For example, only thirty eight states practice capital punishment
while the other twelve employ life imprisonment with no parole as an alternative to putting serious offenders to death. The death penalty in the United states is one of the most criticized policies in American society. Under the Constitution's eighth amendment, Americas are protected against cruel and unusual punishment. While it does not clearly define what punishment is deemed 'cruel and unusual,' several campaigns argue that capital punishment is cruel and unusual and is a direct violation of human rights. Organizations like Amnesty International, a worldwide human rights group, claims that capital punishment is not only inhumane, but it does not deter crime more effectively in comparison to other punishments not involving death. (Amnesty International) Other studies have proven that it in fact costs up to three times more to put a person to death that it does to sentence life in prison with no parole. A Texas death penalty case costs an average of $2.3 million, about three times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for forty years.(Hoppe 1A)
Yet, with all the polls, statistics, and studies conducted to discourage the practice of the death penalty in the United States, other nations have found the death penalty, as well as other harsh punishments, is not a violation to human and civil rights, but an effective tool in keeping public safety. Singapore's criminal laws are some of the most extreme and consistent laws found in all of the world. Its government still employs the use of corporal punishment for some offenses that would receive a mere parole sentence in the U.S. Singapore's citizens have stated that even though its punishments are severe and outrageous to some, their streets are safer, cleaner, and the quality of life in Singapore is valued more because of these punishments. In this country the punishments that undergo heavy crossfire in the U.S. are swiftly carried out and as a result, crime in Singapore is significantly lower in comparison to the U.S. crime rates. (Father's Manifesto) There is a consistent mandatory death sentence for narcotic offenders. A death sentence is also immediately carried out for anyone who opens fire while committing an unlawful act - whether or not you shoot anyone or anything is not taken into consideration. (Singapore Law FAQ) Caning is another form of punishment carried out for crimes such as vandalism and sex offenses. Convicts are strapped to a trestle and the exposed buttocks of the offender are flogged by a martial arts expert. The caning is usually coupled with a prison sentence. Singapore's officials argue that its strict laws and swift, severe punishment are what sets it aside from a crime-ridden place like New York City. (Father's Manifesto)Of course, opponents to CP (corporal punishment) argue that this is also a cruel and unusual way to deter crime. However, those that argue this only need to compare the crime rates of Singapore to those of the United States. Whipping or caning is indeed stressful and painful but it is Singapore's alternative to costly long-term confinement. This way criminals are quickly reformed and released back into society as law abiding citizen. Another factor to be considered in Singapore's low crime rate is its geography and its size. The country is located northeast of Indonesia just south of Malaysia. It is roughly 3.5 times the size of Washington D.C. It is arguable to say that the reason Singapore's crime rates are low compared to the U.S. is because of its small, controllable area.
But is the size of a nation or governed land a factor in determining its crime rate? Take into consideration the territory of Puerto Rico. It is a small island in the Atlantic Ocean; considerably smaller than Singapore. However, Puerto Rico's murder rate is more than three times higher than that of the U.S. (National Center) The sharp contrast between a place like Puerto Rico and Singapore and the U.S. is that while citizens of the U.S. and Singapore enjoy a high standard of living, over half of Puerto Rico's population earns less than US$ 11,000 a year. This brings us to another question in this research. Does a socioeconomic factor playa role in a country's crime rate? Another interesting tidbit is that capital punishment does not exist in Puerto Rico. Their courts are set up similar to those of Singapore. A magistrate judge is the one who hears the case, decides the verdict and delivers the sentence. The prisons in Puerto Ricoare, for the most part, run by gangs, dilapidated, infested with insects and pose a serious health threat to inmates. (Penal Lexicon) The prison system has been under the watchful eye for the drastic and costly changes not only for the prisons, but for juvenile treatment centers, discipline measures and improvements in mental health care. The brutality of violence and disease in prisons seem like enough to prevent anyone from committing a crime that would result in jail time. Unfortunately, even with the abolishment of capital punishment and the anarchy in prisons, Puerto Rico is notorious for holding one of the world's highest murder rate. (Penal Lexicon)
After completing the criminal legal system of three random governments, it is interesting to see how each handles the ever- present demon called crime. When will there be a system that can effectively prevent crime and correct offenders without severe, barbaric tactics and without corruption and anarchy? When researching the topic on criminal legal systems, I've found that different countries have very different beliefs in which they value the life of a human. One country, the United States, will go the extra mile to find the best possible defense for its accused. Another, Singapore, will torture and beat confessions from its suspects while the other, Puerto Rico, casts its criminals into a hell practically operated by those society has thrown away. The common ground all three nations share is their never-ending struggle to provide its citizens with the means to live a life that is safe, meaningful and without fear of danger. Back in America, our government will continue to brainstorm ideas to eliminate crime in our streets and neighborhoods. Perhaps in time, we will be able to look to other governments' crime-fighting tactics when attempting to improve our own.
Hoppe, Christy. "Executions Costs Texans Millions." Dallas Morning News 8 March 1992: 1A
The National Center for Public Policy Research. <http://www.nationalcenter.org/PuertoRicoFacts898>
The Official Father's Manifesto World Wide Web Site <http://fathers.ourfamily.com/prison.htm>
The Penal Lexicon. (c) Design Web Ltd., 1995-2001 <http://www.penlex.org.uk/pages/ovpuerto.html>
Singapore Law FAQ. S H Tan & Associates (c) 2000 <http://singaporelawfaq.com>