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Assessment of the Consensus vs. Conflict Debate in the Criminal Justice Systemt

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The criminal justice system in the United States is hampered by the separate and uncoordinated mechanism of the police, “enforcing the laws, emphasize community protection;” courts, “weighing peoples’ rights versus community needs;” and corrections systems conflicted between punishment and rehabilitation. They are so separated that they cause resistance and stifled communication. For example, although police are supposed to have probable cause, they are not accountable for the quality of an arrest but on the number of arrest; but a prosecutor may have to nolle prosse (dismiss) on poor quality arrests. And, prosecutors may be judged by the number of convictions instead of meeting the ends of justice. Although the police and courts are completely independent of each other they must rely on each other to fulfill their objective for corrections to punish criminals. (Peak, 2007, 7)

The Consensus versus Conflict Debate’s history goes back to the Constitution to hold the three separate entities together. The Declaration of Independence holds the “truths to be self-evident,” but the conflict among the parties makes a mockery of justice giving the “Right of the People to alter or abolish it.” The laws conflict with reason; holding to Locke’s purpose to protect property when protecting people is by far more noble (Peak, 2007, 14)Agreeing with the conflict theorist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who challenged Hobbes and Locke, debating that “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains”( Peak, 2007, 15).

This truism is even more pronounced in the Land of the Free, or used to be. Unequal distribution of resources may very well be the cause of the conflict as Rousseau described. It is obvious that the poor are locked away, like the rioters in Haiti, trying to survive, while the Fortune 500 may do their part, the chasm is too deep to make a difference. The name so apropos, Locke’s theory would lock them up and/or use force to “guarantee compliance” (id.). That in itself causes conflict; locking the debtor up will ensure the debt will not be paid.

Basically the consensus viewpoint, holds “that all parts of the system work toward a common goal.” Conversely, the conflict theory, holds” that agency agendas” create self-serving motives promulgated by outside self-interest groups, like MADD, or the public at large, like groups creating the Neighborhood Watch (id.). Just as justice is depicted by the balanced scales, department administrators can not let their department policies swing far from center toward consensus or conflict arc of the pendulum. Maintaining balance or a center point promotes independence for the department and the people because it prevents an atmosphere prone to creating a totalitarian state.

The consensus v. conflict model plays into the individual’s roles when considering the chain of command. There can be only one leader; to have any other plan would present a grandioseconflict. Consensus must be complete within the department to comply with the superior officer, as conflict with a ship captain would be mutiny. Police have a bond to know their place in the chain; it gives them the boundaries to properly make quick decisions in any crisis, otherwise a conflict could cause uncertainty and inaction (Peak, 2007, 28). Even, local officials such as”mayors, city managers and administrators, members of the agency, labor organizations, citizens, special-interest groups, and the media all have differing role expectations of the chief of police that often conflict” (Peak, 2007, 91).

Citizens tend to expect police services… preventing corruption and illegal use of force. Special-interest groups expect the chief to advocate policy positions that they favor. For example, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) pushing DUI arrests by the police (Peak, 2007, 92). Conflicts have caused some to quit and Peak has listed three types as (1) confrontation, briefly intense but clearly defined as in a racial profiling scandal; (2) shaky alliance, “intense and pervasive” causing ripple effect such as chief being ousted by non renewal from Rodney King’s scandal created pressures from public and peers; and (3) a politicized organization, common in policing and somewhat tolerated but pervasive and muted stemming for example from riots or a failed investigation like O.J Simpson or JonBenet Ramsey which caused the police chief in Boulder CO to step down (Peak, 2007, 94-95).

The Consensus vs. Conflict debate is important in the CJS, policing, courts, and corrections, and the rivalry within social groups and rulers (Peak, 2007, 167). The justice system having many conflicts in each system, together makes the overall conflict even larger. Although the ultimate goal, justice, may be the same for the system as a whole, the individual goals conflict the efforts of the other. There seems to be more conflict than consensus in the CJS especially when the personal agenda becomes apparent for self-serving actions, like prosecuting a case on less than ethical standards to insure promotion as a judge; or hiding or producing police evidence to advance a conviction to be promoted to FDLE; or issuing VOP for minor, insignificant infraction by a probation officer, to bolster his own record or perhaps to support a mutual fund heavily funded by CXW, CRN, or GEO. This last example of the publicized egregious conduct of Pennsylvania judges who pled guilty to taking bribes to convict juveniles to a private jails further supports my view of the conflict in the consensus vs. conflict debate (Brasscheck).


Peak, Kenneth J. (2007). Justice Administration: Police, Courts, and Corrections Management. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2007 (internal citations omitted).

Brasscheck TV. Democracy Now. “Prison and profit motives Jailing and drugging kids for profit.” Retrieved from http://www.brasschecktv.com/page/578.html .

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