Criminal Justice System: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Jennifer Lowery

Jennifer has taught elementary levels K-3 and has master's degrees in elementary education and curriculum/instruction and educational leadership.

The criminal justice system is a system that keeps citizens safe. In this lesson, learn about the different parts of the criminal justice system, and find out how each part works to protect the people who live in the United States.

What is the Criminal Justice System?

Have you ever broken a rule? If so, what happened? You likely received some kind of punishment. This is very similar to what happens in the criminal justice system in our country. This is a system of organizations that serves to protect American citizens, and to make sure that justice is served when crimes are committed. Let's find out more about the parts of this system and how it functions.

The criminal justice system is often represented by scales, which symbolize equality and fairness in upholding the law.
justice

Enforcement of Laws

Remember those rules that you might have broken? There are rules for adults too, called laws. These are rules that are designed to keep everyone safe, but occasionally people decide to break those laws. This is where one important part of the criminal justice system steps in. Law enforcement includes police officers who write tickets or make arrests when people break the law. If you think about it, this makes sense because they are enforcing the laws of their state or country.

Law enforcement includes police officers like these, who write tickets or make arrests if someone breaks the law.
law enforcement

Legal System

Okay, someone has broken the law. Now what? They may go on to another part of the criminal justice system, which includes the courts. This is where a judge or a group of people determine if the person is innocent of the crime they are accused of, or if they are guilty and should be punished.

So how does this work exactly? Something called a trial takes place. This is where two groups of people present information. The prosecution is one side, and this includes one or more lawyers who are trying to prove that the person on trial is guilty. They have an important responsibility, because a significant part of the criminal justice system is that a person accused of a crime is considered innocent until they are proven guilty.

In a courtroom, the prosecution must prove that a person accused of a crime is guilty.
court

On the other side is the defense, and this is one or more lawyers who will try to prove that the person is innocent. Both of these sides present information to a judge and a group of people called a jury. A jury is a group of ordinary citizens who are selected to listen to both sides during a trial. They then meet and decide if the accused person is innocent or guilty.

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