Public Health and Criminal Justice

VI. Conclusion

The paradigm shift toward public health is expected to evolve as criminologists seek interdisciplinary perspectives to reduce social problems. Both the criminal justice system and public health systems share commonality in the population they regularly serve. Criminogenic populations are more likely to have weathered lives of early trauma, adolescent delinquency, and adulthood addiction. Over the life course, these risk factors increase rates of physical, mental, and social abnormalities. By the time these individuals commit infractions serious enough to warrant the attention of the criminal justice system, they present with a constellation of chronic disease and egocentric behaviors. Certainly, ill health and high crime are disproportionately experienced by urban, poor populations in which people of color reside.

The social gradient of health demonstrates the extent to which environmental variables impact rates of mortality and morbidity. With time, the burden of disease manifests in crime, delinquency, drug and alcohol addiction, and criminogenic behavior. Furthermore, social inequalities promote abuse, victimization, and fear of crime that can restrict daily activities. The inclusion of a public health perspective enables criminology the opportunity to extend its mission beyond issues of crime and deviance in order to address public safety, public health, and social justice. This involves the adoption of epidemiology tenets of screening and testing, surveillance, data consolidation, and educational campaigns and programs. The public health perspective favors prevention strategies rather than treatment or response strategies and population-level interventions rather than individual-level interventions. Meeting these objectives will require the synergy of collaborative partnerships that involve criminal justice agencies and public health agencies.

The policies of the U.S. criminal justice system have led to the mass incarceration of groups that disproportionately experience the burden of physical, mental, and social pathologies. Paradoxically, criminologists have adopted the public health perspective in order to direct citizens into more appropriate avenues of care and away from the criminal justice system. A shift in perspective inherently carries conflicts in methodology and ethics; however, the potential efficacy offered through interdisciplinary partnerships outweighs these concerns. This research paper leaves readers a final quote that highlights the disastrous state of affairs in the California criminal justice system and the need for new perspectives to address crime and delinquency:

It has been projected that over the next five years, the state’s budget for locking up people will rise by 9 percent annually, compared with its spending on higher education, which will rise only by 5 percent. By the 2012–2013 fiscal year, $15.4 billion will be spent on incarcerating Californians, as compared with $15.3 billion spent on educating them. (Harris, 2007).

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