Stories related to the U.S. criminal justice system often make headlines. However, many of the complex and controversial issues covered in these stories don’t lend themselves to simple, clear-cut solutions and news-ready synopses. Here, we examine five current issues in criminal justice and explore the degree programs that can help make sense of these complex subjects:  

Body Cameras 
Increased attention on fatal incidents involving alleged police misconduct has spurred a push to make body cameras standard equipment for police, alongside handcuffs and pepper spray. The intent is to achieve greater accountability and transparency regarding police actions through recorded evidence. This is potentially beneficial because video footage may exonerate the officer or the suspect involved. 

The use of body cameras has broad support—90% of American voters, according to one survey—and is expanding, with the Department of Justice announcing it will permit officers nationwide to use body cameras under certain conditions. Body cameras do have their critics and downsides, however. In some jurisdictions, officers are not permitted to turn their cameras off while on duty. This creates privacy issues for police, who often take restroom breaks or take personal calls while on duty, and for bystanders who may be inadvertently recorded during an investigation. 

Human Trafficking  
Human trafficking, the act of smuggling a person for the purpose of forced labor, is a $150 billion business. The case of Jeffrey Epstein, an American financier with personal ties to royalty, world leaders, and major celebrities, is perhaps the highest profile sex trafficking story in recent memory. While all 50 states have anti-human-trafficking laws on the books and increasing focus is being directed toward helping survivors, addressing and preventing human trafficking still presents many challenges. 

According to the Center for American Progress, these challenges include a lack of solid data about sex trafficking involving minors, the tendency of society to see trafficked individuals as criminals rather than as victims, and the justice system and social services failing to recognize victims and potential victims of human trafficking. Further, business owners and the public may unwittingly support human trafficking through companies that are ostensibly legitimate, e.g., hotels and other hospitality businesses, banks, and transportation companies. 

Marijuana Legalization  
A growing number of states are legalizing marijuana for recreational use, which has created some new concerns for law enforcement. There has been an increase in burglaries of marijuana dispensaries and violence toward their employees, as well as increased criminal activity in the surrounding neighborhoods. Further, determining how impaired a driver might be by cannabis during a traffic stop is a more complex process than testing for alcohol intoxication. The Breathalyzer has been used to detect alcohol in a driver’s system since the 1950s, but an equivalent and accurate device for detecting cannabis is still under development.  

Genealogy Database Use 
The Golden State Killer, who murdered at least 13 people and raped dozens more during the 1970s and 1980s, was apprehended in 2018 using a method relatively new to law enforcement. Police involved in the case uploaded DNA evidence from a crime scene to GEDmatch, a public genealogy website, and found a DNA match from one of the killer’s distant relatives. This eventually led them to Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., who was convicted as the Golden State Killer in 2020.  

DNA evidence is possibly the most definitive type of evidence in crime investigation, but the use of data from genealogy websites by police is controversial. People tracing their family history through a genealogy website may not want to have their information used by law enforcement. There are also concerns that this use of data by police violates the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. These concerns notwithstanding, in 2019 a Florida judge ordered GEDmatch to give police full access to its database. 

Sentencing Disparities  
The expression “justice is blind” is intended to suggest that the justice systems “sees” and treats all people equally. This ideal is often not reflected in criminal sentencing, however, as a federal government report has shown. For instance, Black men receive longer prison sentences—an average of 19.1% longer—than white men under similar circumstances. The same report shows that women of any race receive shorter prison sentences than white men. Advocacy groups such as The Sentencing Project are actively working to end such sentencing disparities. 

A Career-Enhancing Online Education in Criminal Justice 
The University of Texas Permian Basin offers online degree programs in criminal justice that can prepare you to enter into or advance within this dynamic field. Both programs are presented in an asynchronous, 100% online format that enables you to learn at your own pace, anywhere, around your personal and professional responsibilities. 

Bachelor of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice Studies 
This online program is designed for students who wish to protect and serve their community while affecting positive change to the criminal justice system from within.  

If you’ve already completed a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or another field, you may want to consider the professional benefits that a graduate-level criminal justice credential can bring to you. 

Master of Science in Criminal Justice Administration 
This online program is designed for professionals working within the criminal justice system who wish to advance into leadership positionsand it can also benefit undergraduate degree holders looking to develop a mastery of criminal justice concepts. You can earn an online master’s degree in criminal justice administration from UT Permian in as little as one year. 

Explore criminal justice online with UT Permian Basin and earn a respected degree that can expand your expertise and bring greater employment opportunities.