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[dropcap size=small]In the 19th century, Daniel Webster wrote, “Justice is the greatest interest of man on earth. It is the ligament which holds civilized beings and civilized nations together.” [1]

Justice refers to fairness in punishment of wrongdoing and protection of citizens’ rights.  It also suggests that all citizens are equal before the law and that they have the right to be treated equally according to just laws. Above all, citizens expect and want laws and for those laws to be applied fairly.

[alert type=white ]Author: Mustafa Demir is Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Plattsburgh State University of New York.[/alert]

Justice is maintained and provided by those citizens who work in the three main criminal justice institutions: cops (police), courts, and corrections. Simply stated, the cops are in charge of preventing and investigating crimes and apprehending suspects; the courts are responsible for determining innocence or guilt and punishing criminals; the corrections component is responsible for rehabilitating offenders so that they cannot recommit crimes.

The criminal justice system is the basis of a country. The ruling government distributes justice to citizens through criminal justice institutions that punish offenders and protect innocent citizens’ rights.

Criminal justice institutions represent the power of a state. The state uses the power of these institutions, and citizens understand that the state has the authority to act when a person does not abide by the rules. These institutions act on behalf of citizens in modern societies.

Criminal justice institutions exist to provide and maintain justice for all citizens regardless of whether they are innocent or guilty. These institutions should be independent of political influences to uphold justice. If citizens’ perception of justice is undermined, criminal justice institutions and those who have caused the change in perception lose their legitimacy in the eyes of the people. If citizens do not view the institutions as legitimate, citizens are less likely to trust and to cooperate with those institutions. In other words, the ligament between citizens and the state is more likely to be severed. A survey in Turkey earlier this year showed that just 40% of citizens trust the courts. The courts are one of the main institutions that distribute and maintain justice.

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Since the failed military coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016, a total of 24,092 police officers, 4,424 prosecutors and judges, and 5,922 officers working in the Ministry of Justice, including corrections officers, have been fired—all by government decrees. The numbers suggests that, under these circumstances, those who work in criminal justice institutions will be less likely to uphold justice through fair and proper administration of the law, more likely to be hesitant about following the laws and rules designed to provide and maintain justice, and more likely to follow the orders, requests, and demands of those who wield power. Citizens would not be free from arbitrary arrest or seizure.

Justice is needed for everyone; however, injustice is only for people who are in fear of losing their power. If justice cannot be provided and maintained fairly, impartially, and independently in the eyes of the citizens, then the legitimacy of the country’s government is undermined, and the ligament that joins civilized beings is in grave danger.


[1] Cited in Frank Schmalleger, Criminal Justice Today, 7th ed. (Upper saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003).


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