This chapter introduces the challenges of social control, the definition of crime, and the U.S. criminal justice system.


Social Control

Social control is the rules, habits, and customs a society uses to enforce conformity to its norms.


The U.S. Criminal Justice System

  • The protection of individual rights is an integral part of the functioning of law enforcement. The government serves citizens’ interests by finding methods to control crime without allowing law enforcement agencies to turn the country into a police state.
  • Criminal justice is a social institution that has the mission of controlling crime by detecting, detaining, adjudicating, and punishing and/or rehabilitating people who break the law.
  • The criminal justice system must respond in the name of society when crimes are committed.
  • The criminal justice system may be envisioned as a funnel that includes offenses unknown to the police, offenses known to the police, arrests, prosecutions, plea bargains, trials, sentencing, probation, prison, and parole.
  • Other means of social control besides the criminal justice system include the family, religion, schools, and the media.


  • Crime can be described as an action that violates the rules of society to the point of harming citizens or the society itself. Other crimes, such as espionage crimes, threaten a society’s political stability.
  • Crime may go undetected, and the harm is not generally perceived.
  • The wedding-cake model of criminal justice highlights the differences between types of cases based on how the media treats them and how the public considers them. The top layer of "celebrated cases" consists of cases that receive the most attention; the middle two layers comprise "serious felonies" and "less-serious felonies"; and the fourth layer comprises misdemeanors.
  • Corporate crime involves the breaking of laws by a company’s employees in pursuit of profit. White-collar crime usually involves employees harming a corporation.
  • The actual crime rate does not always accurately reflect the public’s perception of the crime rate.
  • Officials use discretion to decide which cases proceed further into the criminal justice system and which ones do not. Many of the crimes that do enter the system may be eventually excluded.
  • Many crimes that enter the system are systematically excluded for a variety of reasons, including cost, discretion, and errors.