Legal Guide

5 Ways the Criminal Justice System Has Changed Over the Years

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The criminal justice system is a cornerstone of our modern society, responsible for maintaining law and order, upholding justice, and ensuring the rights of individuals. Over the years, this system has undergone significant changes, adapting to societal shifts, technological advancements, and evolving perspectives on crime and punishment.

So, read on as we explore five ways the criminal justice system has changed in recent years.

1.  Racial Equality

Racial and ethnic disparities have long been ingrained in the criminal justice system. A stark example is the police stops in California, where about a third of traffic stops comprise Black drivers – twice the share of white drivers.

However, in recent years, a groundswell of activism, fueled by tragic events such as the death of George Floyd and the BLM movement, has ignited a vigorous push for racial equality in the criminal justice system. For instance, the adoption of Assembly Bill 256 in California represents a significant stride toward addressing racial bias within the criminal justice system. Before this bill, you could only challenge racial discrimination for cases before 2021. But now, even folks with convictions or judgments from before that date get to seek relief if racial bias is proven to have been a factor in their case.

Transformations in the criminal justice system are also resulting in the high demand for this field. As of 2020, approximately 3 million workers were employed in the criminal justice field. For those willing to enter this field, proper academic credentials and relevant skillset is required. In terms of education, bachelors in criminal justice provides essential knowledge and develops critical skills needed to succeed in this field. Students get to learn about all the changes that took place in the criminal justice system over the years, what new policies are being worked on or implemented, and what issues remain unresolved.

By raising awareness of various issues, future criminal justice professionals are better equipped to recognize and confront racial disparities, striving to maintain an unbiased and impartial stance regardless of an individual’s race, gender, or religion.

2.  Abolishment of Capital Punishment

In recent years, a paradigm shift within the realm of criminal justice has been underway, transitioning from a retribution-focused mindset to a more rehabilitation-centered approach. And this has led to a growing global movement advocating abolishing capital punishment, also known as the death penalty.

Back in the day, proponents of capital punishment were convinced that the Grim Reaper’s watchful eye would stop would-be criminals in their tracks. However, numerous studies have contradicted this assumption. Countries that have abolished the death penalty haven’t turned into murder hotspots. Surprisingly, some places have even seen murder rates take a dip.

The movement to abolish the death penalty has gained significant momentum, transcending borders and cultures. In the United States, 23 states have abolished capital punishment, reflecting a growing recognition of its flaws and shortcomings. And on the global stage, 112 countries have chosen to abolish the death penalty.

3.  International Crime

The criminal justice system has had to adapt to address transnational crime in an interconnected world. International cooperation and agreements have become crucial in combating these challenges that transcend national borders.

For instance, the CIA worked closely with the Colombian forces and ran numerous joint operations to capture Pablo Escobar and disrupt the Medellin Cartel. Colombia even signed a treaty of extradition with the United States. Hence, as a result, Colombian smugglers who smuggled drugs to the US would be prosecuted and jailed in America even if they’ve never visited the US.

Steps like these play a crucial role in the apprehension and prosecution of transnational criminals.

4.  Televised Trials

The philosophy that courtroom matters should be transparent and accessible to the public has been a foundational principle of the justice system. This commitment to transparency is precisely why anyone can drive to the courthouse and sit at any trial they want.

The use of cameras in courtrooms to broadcast trials on television was initially embraced as a means of extending this transparency to a broader audience. The first high-profile case to be televised was the trial of Ted Bundy, a serial killer whose gruesome acts captivated the nation’s attention.

However, the OJ Simpson trial highlighted the challenges associated with televised trials. It turned out that the camera’s presence made people act as if they were in a Hollywood blockbuster, not a court of law. Attorneys played to the audience rather than focusing solely on legal arguments. OJ wept on national TV. And the verdict felt like a twist ending scripted by a novice screenwriter. It ultimately raised concerns about whether the media frenzy influenced the trial’s outcome.

Suddenly, the whole transparency thing started to feel a bit more like a courtroom circus. And this prompted many jurisdictions to reconsider their open-camera policy for trials. The recent Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard case is a modern example of the complexities surrounding televised trials. This civil court case had the whole world glued to their screens. As public opinion was so heavily swayed in favor of Johnny Depp, could the jury have stayed impartial when everyone and their neighbor had already cast their vote?

That’s why only some jurisdictions still allow cameras in the courtroom at the judge’s discretion, while most have taken a cautious approach, allowing cameras on a case-by-case basis.

5.  Technological Advancements

In the ever-evolving landscape of the criminal justice system, technological advancements have emerged as powerful tools that significantly impact the efficiency and accuracy of law enforcement and legal proceedings.

One groundbreaking advancement is gunshot technology. By leveraging acoustic sensors, this technology can instantaneously detect the sound of gunfire, pinpoint its precise location, and provide police officers with real-time information on the number of shots fired and the potential number of shooters.

Another noteworthy technological advancement is DNA matching. This technology allows authorities to identify and unmask the real culprits instead of capturing innocents. This way, actual criminals are captured as the DNA match allows for detecting the person responsible for the heinous act.

As of 2023, there have been 3,284 exonerations in the United States; about 17.5% were through DNA.


Every field witnesses changes and transformations over time. Nonetheless, the criminal justice system has undergone several notable and unprecedented transformations. Most, if not all, now advocate for fair and equitable treatment of the masses. Transparency has become crucial as the public demands equity and fairness. As the field continues to grow, the demand for criminal justice has also risen, with millions being employed in it. Likewise, technology is also making strides and offering strategic tactics to the criminal justice system.

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