5 Challenges Facing Criminal Justice Professionals Right Now

By Craig Gruber.

Dr. Gruber is the director of Northeastern's Homeland Security program and lead faculty in the Criminal Justice Program. He is an expert in maritime domain awareness, intelligence analysis, and counter-terrorism. An officer in the U.S. Navy Reserves, Dr. Gruber has served at the Office of Naval Intelligence and Joint Intelligence Center Central Command.

To be successful, criminal justice system leaders need to think strategically, communicate locally, and act ethically while developing comprehensive solutions to crime and terrorism. Among the many challenges we face are criminal behavior trends like street violence, gangs, guns, human trafficking, terrorist activities, and cyber crime.

What are the challenges keeping us up at night? Here are five:   

1. Drug use and the crime cycle.

Between 50 and 80 percent of men test positively for drugs when they’re arrested. This has led to a vicious cycle of criminal activity and drug use.

A big part of the challenge right now is figuring out what implications this has. Does decriminalizing a drug make it less of a problem or just one that we aren’t arresting people for?

2. Youth in the criminal justice system.

We need to reexamine how we view juvenile offenders.

Broadly speaking, are we looking for the “big” arrests or misdemeanors? Should we focus on restorative justice or community safety? Are those two mutually exclusive?

This is going to be a big focus of research and scholarship in the coming years.  

3. The high incarceration rate.

As of the last available data, 2 million people were incarcerated for crimes in the U.S. and almost 7 million people were under supervision. We need to figure out why this is. It’s an issue that affects more than the criminals—it has huge impacts on those in and out of the communities where the crimes took place.

Economics also plays a role: We spend about $50 billion a year in correctional efforts. The Attorney General has noted both of these, so it is an issue on the national stage.  

4. Violence against women.

According to the National Institute of Justice , about 1.3 million women are physically assaulted by an intimate partner each year. And stalking is more common than previously thought.

We need to improve the effectiveness of the criminal justice system’s response to these crimes.  

5. The "three strikes" legislation.

An increasing number of states now use this system, which means that if someone is arrested and convicted three times they’re “out.” But we know that recidivism (repeating a crime after being punished) actually declines as a person ages.

These mandatory sentences don’t take into account the likelihood that the person will offend again, given this. We need to consider alternate sentencing and prevention paradigms. One size probably does not fit all.