Formal & Informal Channels of Communication in the Criminal Justice Field

Written by claudia sinclair
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Formal & Informal Channels of Communication in the Criminal Justice Field
Overhearing organizational information is an informal channel of communication. ( Images)

Once defined, formal and informal channels of communication can be easily deciphered within an organisation. The criminal justice system includes courts, police, and corrections. The formal channels are the strict procedures defined by the policies of the organisation. The informal channels consist of the undocumented sharing of information. Both channels share in the efficiency and inefficiency of information sending and receiving.

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Formal Communication

Formal channels of communication are within the hierarchy of the criminal justice field. The chain of command directs the formal channels of upward, downward, and horizontal communication through the levels of command. The organisation's hierarchy establishes procedures related to communication within the levels of command. The directors dictate the means of communication and to whom each subordinate is to report. The hierarchy sets the structure and atmosphere through written policies and procedures.

Downward Formal Communication

Formal channels are set forth as strict rules of communicating within the organisation. The effects of formal channels can be both efficient and inefficient. Downward channels are when the directors send information to a lower level and the information is passed down until reaching the lowest applicable subordinate. This is efficient when each level passes the information on verbatim. The information can also be corrupted or delayed from one level to the next, causing inefficiency within the channel. In corrections downward communication could be the prison warden's amendment to inmate disciplinary actions. The warden communicates the amendment to the assistant warden and in turn the information flows downward to majors, lieutenants, sergeants and finally, the corrections officers.

Upward Formal Communication

Upward communication is the channel that provides directors with feedback from subordinates. The channel may have a set system including reports and structured forms. Inefficiency is possible when the subordinate does not disclose all pertinent information. Some subordinates might leave out information that might result in discipline and/or termination. Family court employees utilise upward communication due to the consistent reporting back to superiors about the status of individual cases.

Horizontal Formal Communication

Horizontal channels are communication within the same level of command. This channel is efficient for department problem solving, resolving conflict, and group projects. Inefficiency occurs when the level becomes too comfortable within itself, failing to seek out or receive information from other levels. Horizontal communication is specific to one level of command. When patrol police officers communicate among themselves, and detectives communicate with each other are both examples of horizontal communication. If the two levels communicate with each other, it is then upward or downward communication.

Informal Channels of Communication

The most common informal channel of communication is the "grapevine." Employees at any level tend to share received or overheard information with other employees. The inefficiency with this channel is that some employees do not repeat the information as it was received. The information becomes altered and invalid. The informal channel also provides efficiency. An atmosphere of kinship can appear within the organisation's structure. Coworkers that share information tend to bond through this process resulting in loyalty among groups within the subculture of the organisation. The practice of police officers meeting at the local pub after work is an example of "Old Boy" networking, a form of informal communication.

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