Communication is an important element in the establishment, maintenance and development of human interpersonal relationships, particularly for the achievement of social integration and interaction (Buzatu&Pipas, 2014). The process of communication involves several steps, all working towards the main goal of passing information. The process of communication involves both verbal and non-verbal messages, which parties and the different ends of the communication process use to pass information (Kazimoto, 2013). While communication in itself is about passing information from one entity to another, effective communication ensures the removal of any ambiguity, making it easier for the recipient to process and give feedback on the communication. Within criminal justice, communication is one of the most important elements critical to a proper functioning law enforcement organization. Communication breakdown occasioned by barriers to effective communication is however a recurrent problem within the criminal justice system. The socio-economic background of either the criminal justice personnel or clients of the system can be a major cause of communication breakdown. The socio-economic barriers hail from a variety of causes and can have adverse effects on the justice system. It is however possible to develop strategies to overcome these barriers, and with it enhance communication in the criminal justice system.
Closeness between individuals with the same background usually enhances communication between such people. People from similar social and economic background find it easier to communicate amongst themselves (Waltman& Wagner-Marsh, 2010). The diverse range of experiences and mutual understanding among people of similar social and economic backgrounds usually adds to the ease in communication within the social and economic group. However, lack of similarity in experiences and understanding between people from different social and economic background can be a major cause of communication breakdown between the two (Waltman& Wagner-Marsh, 2010). This fact goes on to affect communication within the criminal justice system, a fact aggravated by the different understanding of certain words and phrases as used within the criminal justice system, which may have different meaning for individuals outside the criminal justice system, as well as outside the socio-economic background of the speaker (Lauring, 2011).
Among the most viable causes of communication breakdown under the socio-economic bannerare the sense of superiority as presented by individual from the “high-society,” and a resulting sense of inferiority from those of lesser social standing (Kazimoto, 2013). By virtue of holding senior positions within the society, such individuals may require the same sense of respect accorded to them within the society to be replicated within the justice system even when they are wrong. Such individuals are likely to look down upon junior officers within the justice system, and may therefore only want to speak to the highest-ranking officials within the system. The result of such demands become total breakdown of communication, where the junior officers within the justice system cannot relay any information to such individuals, and when they relay this information, due to the social status of the other party, may give incomplete or insufficient information, some of which may be misinterpreted (Waltman& Wagner-Marsh, 2010).
Individuals within the justice system, especially the high-ranking officers, may use their social positions to intimidate others with lower societal standing. Thus, such individual may be reluctant to communicate with others of lesser ranks, yet expect respect from the same individuals. According to Buzatu and Pipas(2014), people have different ways of life as well as unique ways of handling different circumstances. For this matter, many may tend to believe in their own way as the perfect way, and in the process abuse others. By expecting a given amount of respect and condor towards them, those of higher social ranking put much pressure on those lesser ranking within the society or profession, and with it causing a breakdown in effective communication due to the intimidation (Buzatu&Pipas, 2014).
Much of the sense of superiority and inferiority as expressed by social ranking is replicated in the economic ability within the justice system. Communicating with economically able individuals presents with it communication barriers, where such individuals expect instantaneous services, and where such is not provided they feel offended.On the other hand, the individuals on the receiving end of such interaction end up with a sense of worthlessness, with others opting for other professions outside the criminal justice system.
Another socio-economic barrier is language. Here, while the two parties involved in a communication may be speaking the same language, certain idiosyncrasies within the same language as a result of socioeconomic status may indeed cause a breakdown in communication. Given that individuals highly placed in the society, both socially and economically use “more refined” language, they may use vocabulary unknown to the criminal justice system personnel. The use of such vocabulary may not only breakdown communication, but may be the genesis of tension between the two, with the other party viewing such language usage as demeaning (Buzatu&Pipas, 2014).
Yet another communication barrier within the realm of socio-economic barrier is competency in communication skills. Largely, individuals from disadvantage backgrounds have weak communication skills (Hall, 2009). With communication, people management, team and customer service skills, individuals from disadvantaged socioeconomic background are likely to be poor communicators, which consequently result into ineffective communication within the justice system, whether as employees or as clients to the system.Moreover, individuals from low socioeconomic backgrounds have even lesser exposure to information, which could help them improve their communication skills (Hall, 2009). The lack of such information means that the individual within the justice system will not improve his/her language skills, in addition to even lesser chances of upward professional and social mobility.
Certain perceptions and stereotypes exist on individuals working in the criminal justice system. The perception within many circles is that the criminal justice system personnel hold lesser social and economic status (Hall, 2009). Many would therefore see personnel in the criminal justice system such as police officers as failures in the society, and therefore look down upon them. As earlier stated, personnel with higher ranks may view those with lesser ranks as being of no consequence, and therefore their opinion may not matter. The result of this is a broken system with no mutual respect among colleagues, and with it a breakdown in the communication infrastructure.
The implication of these barriers is grave and greatly affects the working of the justice system. It is therefore necessary that concerted efforts be undertaken to ensure that effective communication thrives within the justice system. Leaders within the justice system should be the first in implementing schemes towards effective communication in the system. Mayfield and Mayfield (2002), contend that a leader’s success is measured by the level of loyalty and commitment he/she gets from the employees. Moreover, the two contend that employee commitment transcends organizational performance to job satisfaction, improved productivity and high employee turnover (Mayfield & Mayfield, 2002). Additionally, a motivated and committed workforce enhances an organization’s reputation within the job market, and with the elevated status recruitment of the best within the industry. Good communication must therefore begin with the leader, in this case the officer in charge and other leaders within the justice system, for loyalty, commitment and effective communication with clients of the justice system (Mayfield & Mayfield, 2002).
Leaders within the justice system can improve communication among employees by organizing effective communication seminars, which can equip employee with effective communication skills, in addition to bringing equality among the employees from diverse socioeconomic background (Mayfield & Mayfield, 2002). Effective communication skills such as active listening, providing feedback and information sharing are all characteristics of a competent leader, and which are requisite for effective communication in the justice system. By equipping employees with these skills through training therefore, the leadership easily improves communication within the justice system regardless of the personnel socioeconomic background (Mayfield & Mayfield, 2002).
Educators in the system also have the responsibility of training in effective communication. Given the essence of a curriculum in every academic discipline, educators and curriculum developers within the criminal justice system should ensure that they review the curriculum and effect necessary changes in relation to effective communication (Southerland, 2012). For Southerland (2012), the criminal justice curricula should undergo regular review at institutional, national and regional levels, to reflect changes in the criminal justice system as well as in the outside world.
Among the challenges in implementing these strategies is the traditional mindset of many leaders within the criminal justice system. Such leaders view communication as top down and never a transaction among employees (Hall, 2009). Additionally, people from advantaged socioeconomic backgrounds expect a one-way form of communication in which they are the source of communication while the rest are expected to act on the instructions given.
While leaders may desire to organize seminars and training on effective communication, most departments within the criminal justice system usuallyare poorly funded and therefore lack funds for such programs (Southerland, 2012). Indeed, some criminal justice departments are so poorly funded that they have budgetary deficits for their regular operations, and may therefore have none to spare for training on effective communication.
Further, a challenge in training in effective communication emanates from the curriculum. Changes in the criminal justice curriculum as well as departs usually take long, with reforms only occurring often after crises in the system such as prison escape, rise in crimes and increased court delays (Southerland, 2012). The reform process in both the curriculum and the system is painstakingly slow and usually meets great resistance and reluctance from educators and leaders within the system, most of whom claim to stick to established ideals, having incorporated other disciplines within the curriculum and workings of the system (Southerland, 2012).
Communication plays an indispensable role in the establishment and development of human relations. It is indeed the medium for passing information from one person to another. The criminal justice system likewise, plays an important role in the society. It is instrumental in ensuring order and peace in the society, in addition to the protection and balance of individual property, liberty and freedom respectively. It is necessary therefore, that personnel within this system are effectively trained in effective communication for the society to reap the benefits of the system. While barriers to effective communication may exist, especially in relation to the socioeconomic backgrounds of individuals, there are strategies available to combat these barriers within the criminal justice system. When implemented, these strategies have the potential of improving communication in the criminal justice department, as well as the overall performance of the system.
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