Criminal Justice Globally

Globalization in a current practice in law

Throughout the course of the twentieth century, particularly during its second half, the world has seen a fundamental change in the social, political, and economic organization of the world’s societies. All of these changes have occurred in the wider context of globalization, which has resulted in the world becoming a smaller, flatter place. Today, people around the world have come closer together; information flows faster and more effectively across countries, and migratory patterns have a much more active dynamics than ever before. In terms of criminal justice, globalization has also had a significant impact; although it is generally regarded as a positive phenomenon, its implications for criminal justice administration have been mostly negative. The U.S. criminal justice system has suffered multiple vicissitudes over the years, all of them brought about by the ongoing process of globalization.

It might seem impossible to understand why globalization has worked against criminal justice, especially considering that the main argument in favor of globalization is premise of sustained, integral growth and development. Unfortunately, globalization has failed to have any significant (positive) spillovers on criminal justice administration. However, this reality becomes abundantly clear upon considering that “while globalization generates new social stresses, intensifies social fragmentation, and increases personal insecurity, governments are becoming less able to affect social and economic outcomes within their own political jurisdictions, let alone globally” (Weiss, 2000, p. 3). Globalization has enhanced the countries’ economic dynamic, but its sociopolitical implications have also been significant. Today, it is equally clear that “not only does globalization generate vast transnational migrations across Europe, from Mexico to the U.S., and in Southeast Asia, it has also intensified rural to urban migrations in search of work within countries” (Weiss, 2000, p. 5). 

Social migrations across countries (and continents) have followed a very specific pattern. People have consistently migrated from the countryside to the cities. These migrations have imposed significant amounts of stress to the criminal justice system. People, who migrate into the cities, are generally illiterate and poor; they are more prone to engaging into criminal activity (out of sheer necessity). Another factor that must be considered is that the migrations brought about by the phenomenon of globalization generate hostilities between the hosts and migrators. City dwellers generally perceive migrators as outright outsiders; they are unwelcome, undesirable individuals that are attempting to take jobs and other resources from them. This animosity towards outsiders is another catalyst for criminal activity (including, though not limited to, hate crimes).

In the U.S., casualties of the informal economy in illegal drugs create a substantial share of new prison commitments. Mass incarceration of mainly nonviolent, poorly educated young blacks and Latinos, many of whom would have been in the military in an earlier generation, serves social and economic control functions (Weiss, 2000, p. 8).

Globalization leads to migrations, which in turn lead to the concentration of criminal activity in the cities (as opposed to the rural areas). Nowadays, in an attempt to understand what the shortcomings of the today’s criminal justice system are, it is important to distinguish between the different criminal justice systems that may exist. First, it is important to consider the common law, which refers to the set of laws that applies to all peoples (as opposed to the differentiated laws that would apply to different individuals, communities, or tribes). As well, it is important to mention that unlike civil law (the kind of law that is exercised in the United States), common law is not founded on codified legislation, but rather on usage. In a sense, it might be argued that common law is a type of law that is improvised on the spot, with new precedents being established as new cases arise. Codified statutes characterize civil law; a legislative body (i.e. Parliament, Congress, etc.) passes all statutes. Civil law is a legal system that does allow ample latitude in interpreting and applying the law (as does the common law).

Other types of criminal activity include socialist law and Islamic Law (a type of religious law). These are the legal systems with very specific (and distinguishing) characteristics. First, socialist law is a system that is founded on Marxist-Leninist theory, meaning that it is inclined to favor the masses. Secondly, Islamic law is a (religious) legal system that is entirely founded on the Koran. In essence, it is a fundamentalist, absolutist legal system that goes beyond the mere laws (that seek to punish offenders) and goes into instructing citizens on the way they must go about living their lives (in a way that reflects the positive values of the Muslim faith). 

Criminal justice system and international tribunals

Based on the different types of criminal justice systems that exist around the world (such as the ones that have been mentioned in the preceding paragraphs), it should become clear that different countries have different customs, beliefs, and naturally, different ways of conceiving, developing, and implementing the laws. In the context of globalization, this raises additional complications, since the ultimate objective that the (global) criminal justice seeks is to be able to establish international tribunals that allow for objective, universal, and effective laws to be indiscriminately exercised (regardless of the offender’s location and/or nationality). Ultimately, “the truth is that tribunals and the international community have no concrete tools to enforce justice on war-torn societies and it is important to try to understand if the faults of the international criminal justice system can be repaired” (Aloisi, 2010, p. 216). Based on this, before even thinking about the possibility of establishing effective international tribunals and the creation of universal criminal laws, it is important to identify the fault lines with current (international) tribunals and laws, as well as the reasons that have caused these fault lines to develop (so that they can be overcome).

Another factor that must be considered in order to understand why it is that current attempts at the establishment of an international criminal justice system have failed encompasses technology and cyber crime. This relatively new phenomenon has raised a new set of threats to the world’s criminal justice systems, since standing laws were never designed to contemplate the instances, in which intangible crimes (and tangible crimes as well) could be committed over the Internet. In this sense, the laws that deal with technology and cybercrime constitute a work in progress. Unfortunately, this has impeded international tribunals and courts from being effective in coping with criminal activity and in deterring it.

In the last decades, the world has witnessed the proliferation of international criminal courts under the aegis of the United Nations. International tribunals have not deterred future crimes and sometimes have exacerbated the problems that caused the crimes in the first place (Aloisi, 2010, p. 215).

If international tribunals have been ineffective in deterring crime in a global context, it is also important to mention that policing has also proven vastly ineffective in accomplishing this important task. Police institutions around the world are tasked with the duty of protecting and serving the public. However, evidence indicates that these institutions have been only moderately effective (at best) in dealing with criminal justice. This, however, is not only due to the inadequacies of the police personnel, or due to the lack of resources that has historically affected police institutions all over the world. There is another consideration that must be taken into account: political drivers.

While the administration of international justice needs to be impartial, it would be naive to ignore the political drivers behind the creation of international tribunals and courts, and the conflicting agendas of those today commenting on their performance (or lack thereof) (Malone, 2008, p. 730).

Adding on to the intrinsic shortcomings of the police and the overall criminal justice system (at a global scale), it now becomes clear that the law is also finding a hard time to be objective and truly effective. Bias is a reality, and it is brought about by the political drivers, meaning that the laws and criminal justice will inevitably favor some, while at the same time significantly (and negatively) affecting others. This being said, it should be considered that political red tape is also an impediment when attempting to carry out operations and administer the law that transcends the geographic borders of any given country. Based on this, it is clear that “police typically operate within national borders, whereas criminal activities need not be limited to one state. This disparity makes necessary international cooperation among police forces” (Sullivan, 2004, p. 374). Cooperation, however, is frugal at best, and in the meantime, criminal and terrorist organizations have ample space to operate without there being a strong presence of the police (or of the criminal justice system in general, for that matter). “Terrorists, particularly the Al Qaeda network, have spectacularly exploited weaknesses in international law enforcement, some of which are inherent in the current system, where individual nations’ law enforcement agencies operate within constraints of national sovereignty” (Galbraith, 2009, p. 130).

Globalization is an unstoppable force. This should not be a problem, at least not in principle. However, the criminal justice system has proven to be an immovable object, and this has caused significant problems. The criminal justice system needs to adapt. Specifically, the criminal justice system needs to internationalize (and modernize).

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