Table of Contents
Verbal and Nonverbal Communication in the Criminal Justice System
The process of communication involves the exchange of both verbal and nonverbal messages in the form of information. This exchange is normally continuous and the message is the most significant component of communication. The message is passed through a medium from the sender to a recipient, and it is critical that it is not distorted in any way. The communication normally happens in two–way pattern as a feedback is usually expected within a specified period of time and should be in the same format as the original message. In criminal justice system, the strength of communication is vital as it helps to get the best information during interviews between police officers and suspects. There are different styles of communication with different strengths and weaknesses in both verbal and nonverbal communication. Communication helps to improve law enforcement between enforces and the public; furthermore, it is critical in promoting enforcers’ chances of getting the truth of a matter. The process of communication starts immediately with the arrest of a suspect. In the justice system, each of the officers—the arresting officer, prosecutors, defendants, and judges—has a responsibility he carries out in the process of communication. Miscommunication can occur during the process of communication due to language or cultural differences. Thus, nonverbal communication tools come in handy in the situations that require the use of gestures and body language.
The components of communication include context, sender or encoder, message, media, recipient decoder, and feedback. All these components normally affect communication. The context can be physical, social, or cultural. The sender or encoder is the person who sends a message; he can use the verbal or nonverbal symbols for easier interpretation by the recipient. The message is the idea that is sent by the sender for communication and it is what elicits a response from the recipient. It is where communication starts from because the sender decides on what message has to be sent. The medium of communication is the means by which the message is conveyed, exchanged, or transmitted. The choice of the medium is the key in communication for the message to be interpreted correctly by the recipient. The recipient or decoder is the person who gets the message from the sender; he is the target of the message. The decoder interprets the message according to the way it was sent by the sender and the medium that was used. When it comes to feedback, which is the most essential component of communication, this is what permits the sender to analyze the effectiveness of the message. It gives the sender the option of knowing if sent message was correctly interpreted by the recipient. It can be verbal or nonverbal and it can be in written form, for instance reports and memos among many others. The component of communication can also be verbal, nonverbal, and paraverbal. Verbal component involves the content of the message, the choice, and arrangement of words. The nonverbal component involves the message sent through body language. The paraverbal component involves the tone, volume, timbre, and the pacing of the voice. All the components are jointly used for effective communication in sending clear and concise message; they help hear and understand sent message correctly.
In criminal justice system, there are different styles of communication that include passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, assertive, and nonverbal. Passive communication is where one speaks in weak or soft voice and does not express thoughts or feelings directly. The one who uses this style of communication is normally non-confrontational and well liked, but can be easily manipulated and exploited by others. In aggressive communication, one tends to overpower and intimidate others as he expresses his thoughts and feelings in a harsh tone. Most police officers in order to get information from suspects use this communicational style. In passive-aggressive communication, the one can be hardly understood since the communicator tends to deny his feelings by avoiding taking risks. Criminals often tend to use this style of communication. Assertive communication strikes a balance between aggressively pursuing understanding and truth while expecting others to do the same (Markovitz, 2009). This style of communication assures a certain level of trust between the police officer and a criminal. Nonverbal communication involves the use of body language to communicate. In criminal justice, this communication is emphasized because it explains the way a suspect behaves during interrogation which shows his degree of truthfulness.
The difference between listening and hearing in communication is that listening is the process of giving meaning to the verbal communication; that is, paying attention to the spoken words with the intent of comprehending their meaning. On the other hand, to hear is to perceive by the ear; this means that it is a physiological element of listening, e.g. listening with attention. Normally it is in one’s ability to hear but not listen. Skills are needed for effective listening. Hearing is the physical ability which occurs when sound waves are transmitted, perceived by the ears at a certain frequency and loudness, and processed into audible information. Listening, contrariwise, is the active participation in the communication process which involves receiving, attending, understanding, responding, and remembering what was said. Hearing can occur with or without a permission or consent, and, at the same time, you can hear one speak without listening to the words. There are passive and active listeners, and a good listener requires an open mind, direct eye contact, and avoidance of judgment. Good listeners become good communicators hence attaining effective communication.
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The formal and non-formal channels of communication in criminal justice organizations can be described according to the channels of communication within a system. Most criminal systems involve the police, courts, and correction facilities. Formal channels are the procedures set out by the policies within those organizations; these are normally strict procedures. The non-formal channels include the undocumented information which can be shared. The channels have both effective and ineffective ways of sending and receiving information. The chain of command in the criminal justice field is where formal channels of communication are used; this chain directs the formal channels upward, downwards, and horizontally through the levels of command. The procedures to be followed in communication are established within the police force hierarchy and they indicate the authorities the subordinate has to report to because the directors are the ones who dictate the means of communication. The hierarchy through written measures, rules, and policies sets the structures and the atmosphere. In downward formal communication, senior police officers are the ones who send information to a junior person until it reaches the lowest ranked officer. In upward formal communication, the senior police officers are provided with feedback from the junior officers. In horizontal formal communication, communication happens within the same level of command; that is, it is the communication which takes place between officers within the same rank. In informal channels of communication, officers at any level of command can share the received or overheard information with other officers thus creating a high chance of information distortion.
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Different barriers to effective communication can occur at different levels or components of communication; that is, in the encoding, transmitting, medium, responding, or decoding area. This can occur due to the differences in culture, language, organization, individuality, on interpersonal, attitude, and channel barriers levels. The barriers can be expressed through the choice of words or language, body language, selective hearing, stress, physical means of expression, and emotions. These barriers are applicable in the criminal justice too. However, the effects of the barriers of communication are augmented in the criminal justice system due to the strict hierarchy of command which instills fear of senior officers into the junior officers and the intimidation that is likely to be instilled in a criminal by a law enforcement officer. Furthermore, the inappropriate environment such as a courtroom, interrogation room, place of arrest, may be unfamiliar and inappropriate to undertake effective communication between the criminal and the criminal justice officers (Barnhart, 2009).
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However, there are strategies that may be put into practice to surmount communication barriers. They include criminal justice system officers taking a personal responsibility to change their thought and feelings towards their colleagues. This breaks down the communication barrier and builds relationships and, hence, an effective communication. Other measures include asking for clarity, being specific, choosing the means of communication effectively, being patient, speaking slowly and carefully, avoiding the use of idioms and jargons, and providing information via several channels. All this can only be achieved if fear and intimidation across different hierarchies in the criminal justice system are eliminated.