Bored with Criminal Justice? Now, that’s Criminal!


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Bored with Criminal Justice? Now, that’s Criminal!

In the field of criminal justice, concise and specific legal texts are an absolute necessity. When reading legal texts, the challenge is segregating the necessary from the, well, boring. When reading a writer’s work in this particular discourse community, it is important to determine whether the writer’s work is effective or not. It may seem an overwhelming concept at first. One might ask, “Who am I to judge this person? Who am I to determine whether or not this educated scholar’s writing is effective or not?” Truth be told, one becomes qualified as soon as they became a reader. The goal of a writer is to write something that will engage the reader. It is vital that whatever information that the writer is disseminating is read and understood by the reader. That is virtually impossible if the writer has subpar effective writing skills. As a member of the College of Health and Public Affairs’ Criminal Justice program, the student’s goal is to learn about the penal system and find an effective way to serve their community with the information and the skills that they have obtained. One of those skills is effective communication. Communication, whether orally or written, is imperative when interacting with peers, subordinates, and superiors. When attempting to write effectively to a criminal justice discourse community, the two biggest challenges writers face are recognizing all of the technical language that is generally associated with legal texts, and finding an effective way to communicate with the reader without boring him or her.

The first challenge when critiquing any text that involves legal jargon is recognizing the technical language that is commonly associated with legal texts. Words have to be carefully detailed and outlined in order to maintain a certain level of specificity. One misplaced word can mean the difference between a conviction and an acquittal, or a sentence of ten years or a sentence of twenty years. This conundrum typically leads to a specific and methodical representation of whatever the writer is intending to convey. This concept proves true in all three texts used in this rhetorical analysis. This does not necessarily mean that the writings are without merit. It is generally understood that the methodical and specific wording of these texts are expected.

In the case of Thomas Bernard’s piece, “Juvenile Crime and the Transformation of Juvenile Justice: Is there a Juvenile Crime Wave?” the writer attempts to determine whether or not there is the potential for an increase in juvenile criminal activity. To understand the intent of the writer and determining whether the writer has an effective communication style, it is best to understand the writer. Thomas Bernard is a professor of criminal justice and sociology at Pennsylvania State University. His emphasis is in criminology theory and juvenile justice. To illustrate his point about the perception that juveniles are extremely delinquent, Bernard states, “Over the past 200 years, however, it has been persistently believed that juveniles currently were committing more frequent and more serious crimes than juveniles in the ‘good old days’ thirty or forty years earlier” (338). This is an example of tugging, in which the writer attempts to disprove a commonly accepted idea. While this is a concise statement, there is a way that this can be re-written in order to further engage the reader. An effective revision may sound like, “Society perceives that the continual dilemma facing juveniles is the perception that they are committing not only more serious crimes, but are violating the law more frequently than they did thirty years ago.” The typical mindset is that children have gotten progressively worse over the years. Rewriting the exact sentence in a method that is pleasing to the reader is a method that is sure to further engage the reader. Dr. Bernard intends to disprove the myth of juvenile delinquency by naming statistics contrary to that idea. For example, “…the most consistent interpretation is that juvenile crime has declined by about one-third over the last twenty years” (Bernard 337). Statistics are a great method that attracts the reader. However, it does not solve the entire problem, especially when the chief concern is not gaining the reader’s attention; it is keeping it.

In Kelly Richards and Tia Stevens’ separate juvenile criminology pieces, the focus has become whether or not children, specifically females, are more prone to commit crimes than adults. The challenge that these two authors face are consistent with the challenges that almost every member of the criminal justice discourse community face. Is it possible to deliver an effective and meaningful message without essentially boring the reader to death? Writers use a myriad of methods in order to effectively convey a message to their readers, regardless of whether they are in a particular discourse community or not. Of course, it is simple to reach members within the discourse community. If a writer has the fortune of being published, then that information is typically critical to that discourse community. The challenge then becomes how to effectively reach members outside of the discourse community, the average reader. Both Richards and Stevens share this problem and attack it in the same way. They attempt to overwhelm the reader with statistics that support their stance. For example, Richards states, “In 2007–08, the offending rate for persons aged 15 to 19 years was four times the rate for offenders aged more than 19 years” (2), while Stevens writes, “The vast majority of girls (84.8%) were low in delinquency in both 1997and 2002” (1444). Determined to maintain their audience, these two writers decide to use a common method to attract and keep their audience.

In conclusion, effective communication is important in maintaining an audience, specifically one outside of a specific discourse community. Setting a particular tone gives the reader a sense of consistency and direction. They learn what to expect from reading the piece and will have a greater understanding of whether or not they will want to continue reading the piece or not. In the criminal justice discourse community, specificity and consistency are the key components in almost every scholarly tract. Opinions and editorials are unnecessary and only aid to take away from the legality and merit of legal texts. The opportunity cost of varying methods to engage the reader is high. Every attempt made to appease and engage the reader has the potential to degrade the scholarly merit of a legal document. It is the job of criminal justice student and professional writers to straddle the line between effective, engaging papers and specific and precise articles. Writers should always strive to find innovative, clear, concise, and effective ways to communicate to their readers.

Works Cited

Australia. Australian Institute of Criminology. Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice.

By Kelly Richards. Vol. 409. Canberra: AIC, Feb. 2011. Print.

Bernard, Thomas J. "Juvenile Crime and the Transformation of Juvenile Justice: Is There a

Juvenile Crime Wave?" Justice Quarterly 16.2 (1999): 337-56. ProQuest Criminal Justice Periodicals Index. Web. 24 May 2012.

Stevens, Tia, Merry Morash, and Suyeon Park. "Late-Adolescent Delinquency: Risks and

Resilience for Girls Differing in Risk at the Start of Adolescence." Youth & Society 43.4

(2011): 1433-458. Print.

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