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Social Problems and Social Control



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Social Problems and Social Control. For purposes of policing and criminal justice, England and Wales are treated as one unit. Policing is handled by forty-one locally organized police forces in addition to the Metropolitan Police Service and the City of London police force. Most police officers carry a nightstick, with only designated officers carrying sidearms. Persons suspected of committing a crime may be stopped and searched. More extensive searching is possible with authorization from a senior officer. For most crimes the police require judicial authorization to make arrests, but for "arrestable" offences such as murder, authorization is unnecessary. The maximum period of detention without a charge being leveled is ninety-six hours. The Police Complaints Authority handles cases of police brutality. The national policing bodies are the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service. The Home Secretary of the United Kingdom has overall responsibility for policing in England as well as for the prison service, the probation service, and the criminal law.

Criminal law is a combination of statute law made by Parliament and common law (case law). Founded in 1985, the Crown Prosecution Service prosecutes criminals arrested by the police. The court system is adversarial, and the accused is defended by a lawyer (a solicitor or barrister) who attempts to disprove the case presented by the Crown Prosecution Service. Cases that go to Crown Court involve a trial by a jury of the accused person's peers with guidance from the presiding judge. In all other cases not on appeal, the defendant is tried in magistrate court by a judge who decides the case with the assistance of a law clerk. The accused or the Crown may appeal a judgment to a higher court, with the highest court being the House of Lords. Except for treason and a few other offenses, the highest penalty is a custodial sentence.

Since the 1980s, ideas about the role of the criminal justice system have been changing, largely as a result of perceived and real increases in violent and property crimes. Local communities with their informal mechanisms for social control are considered an important part of criminal justice. Neighborhood watch schemes have become popular, and victim-offender mediation and reparation, community mediation, and neighborhood mediation have emerged. Police cautioning, in which juvenile offenders and their parents or guardians are informed of the seriousness of their offenses, has become popular. Parole boards administer the punishment of offenders in the community, and the police and other official agencies have formed partnerships with local communities and voluntary organizations. Some people are critical of the trend toward integrating informal social control into the official criminal justice apparatus. They argue that such social control may result in a culture divided into communities suspicious of outsiders. Others have noted that vigilantism, which plays a relatively small role in the culture (exceptions are street gangs, less organized groupings of males termed "the lads," and soccer hooligans), may take root.


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