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Difference Between Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice

Along the corridors of justice, you are sure to come across different jargons. Some of them are only best known by those practicing law or maintaining law and order while others might be easy to decipher to a non-specialist. For the group of words that are not easy to understand, the common problem for most people is mistaking their use.

Among the most common words commonly mistaken and interchanged are law enforcement and criminal justice. While they are widely used and in almost every case you will listen to, getting the sharp distinction between them might be the only way that would play to the advantage of anyone standing before a court of law or facing an arrest.

To help draw the distinction between law enforcement and criminal justice, this post is dedicated to getting the distinct features of each. In the end, it should be easy to place each term in its rightful place without interchanging them subconsciously. The post also seeks to get the definition of each term as well as the branches.


What is Law Enforcement?

Simply put, law enforcement refers to the activity or action of compelling the compliance with or observation of the law of a particular jurisdiction. It is mostly applied when referring to the actual act of directly engaging in surveillance or patrols by security personnel in a bid to dissuade lawbreakers from committing crimes.

It can also be regarded as a system whereby some select members of the society, in an organized way enforce the law of the land. The enforcement is usually carried out by police officers (or generally, security forces) and happens when the personnel discover, deter, rehabilitate, and/or punish the individuals breaking the law they are guarding.

Law enforcement is usually related to such systems as the courts, penitentiaries, and prisons. However, it is mostly about physical and specially dedicated enforcement agencies preventing and punishing criminal activities.


What is Criminal Justice?

Criminal justice refers to the aspect of delivering justice to individuals who may have committed a crime. The delivery is carried out by a criminal justice system which consists of various government institutions and agencies. The goal of these institutions and agencies is usually the identification and apprehension of lawbreakers and then punishing the wrongdoing.

Criminal justice can be broken into two:

  1. Law enforcement
  2. Legal

The criminal justice system has other goals such as offering moral support for a criminal activity’s victims. It is also charged with the responsibility of rehabilitating the criminals or offenders. Ideally, it is made up of three main parts; law enforcement, the legal system, and prisons that work together to ensure observance of the rule of law.

Criminal Justice Primary Institutions

The institutions making up the criminal justice system include:

  • The police (law enforcement).
  • The prosecutor’s office
  • The courts
  • Prisons and probation agencies.
  • Defense lawyers


Difference Between Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice

  1. Definition

Law enforcement is a term used to refer to any activity or process of compelling members of the society to comply with or observe the law of the particular jurisdiction. Criminal justice, on the other hand, refers to the process of delivering justice to people involved in criminal activities and punishing and rehabilitating them while also giving moral support to anyone affected by the crime committed.

  1. Purpose of Law Enforcement Vs. Criminal Justice

Law enforcement is a field that involves implementing the law of the land to the society. It is linked to those people or agencies that have a direct responsibility of identifying, apprehending, and containing criminals to ensure law and order.

Criminal justice on its side is the overall system that administers justice within a jurisdiction to attain social harmony. Its main goals are ensuring justice prevails, members of the society live harmoniously, and that criminal elements are contained in a way that they can be disciplined to become better members of the society.

  1. Nature of Law Enforcement Vs. Criminal Justice

The nature of law enforcement links it to the people who directly identify and apprehend criminals. On the other hand, criminal justice encompasses all the law enforcement agencies as well as the legal aspects of administering justice.

  1. The composition of Law Enforcement Vs. Criminal Justice

Law enforcement is composed of the police and any other enforcement agency as the law of the land may institute. Criminal justice, on the other hand, is made up of the law enforcement, the courts, defense lawyers and attorneys, juries, the prosecutor’s desk, prisons, and probation agencies.

Law Enforcement Vs. Criminal Justice: Comparison Table


Summary of Law Enforcement Vs. Criminal Justice

The law enforcement and criminal justice fields are both designed to ensure there that peace and co-existence exist in the society. While they work hand-in-hand, they are different, and each has its set of tasks and characteristics. Despite them being different though, law enforcement is a part of the criminal justice system while the latter is the larger system encompassing all relevant agencies and authorities.


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References :

[0]"Law Enforcement & Protection". The Law Dictionary, 2019, https://thelawdictionary.org/article/law-enforcement-protection/.

[1]Prescott, Greg. "Difference Between Law Enforcement And Criminal Justice". Prescottpapers.Com, 2019, https://www.prescottpapers.com/blog/differences/difference-between-law-enforcement-and-criminal-justice.php.

[2]"Public Law Enforcement: Levels & Agencies - Video & Lesson Transcript | Study.Com". Study.Com, 2019, https://study.com/academy/lesson/public-law-enforcement-levels-agencies.html.

[3]Image credit: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/1386755

[4]Image credit: https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=160963&picture=law-and-justice-concept

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