A dissertation is a research paper which is typically written by a candidate in order to obtain a higher degree, such as a master's or doctorate degree. In addition to writing the paper, the candidate typically conducts the original research for it. Many dissertations have been completed in the field of criminal justice, but these tend to open the lines of inquiry for new topics, as well.
Criminal justice is a field of study that looks at the process of addressing crime. This process includes the police who investigate crimes, the courts who decide on the guilt of people accused of crimes and the penal system that punishes those convicted of crimes by the courts. Different aspects of this process have been studied from a wide variety of angles but in an ever-changing world, there are always new lines of inquiry to be pursued in a dissertation.
Police officers are responsible for responding to reports of crime and for investigating those reports, a largely reactive role. Considerable research has been conducted on the idea of the police becoming more proactive in an attempt to prevent crime rather than to simply react to crime. One such area of study is "community policing" and new initiatives have been implemented around the world which could be the focus of a dissertation. Another take on the same issue would be to try and assess the impact of such initiatives on crime rates. A further perspective could look at the role of race relations in community versus traditional policing.
Police officer training is another area which is ripe for study because of social change. Computers have created a whole new way of committing old crimes, such as distributing pornography, and they have also created new crimes, such as cyberstalking. An interesting dissertation could look at whether police training is keeping in step with these changes.
One issue faced by courts in many areas of the world is how to treat mentally disordered people who are accused of a crime which in itself is often the result of the mental disorder. In other words, if those individuals did not suffer from a mental disorder, they may not have committed a crime in the first place. Research in this area has lead to the development of speciality courts to deal with mentally disordered offenders. Future dissertations could assess the impact of these initiatives worldwide or even on a more local level.
As with policing, the increased reliance upon and use of computers has created significant challenges for the courts in delivering criminal justice. The potential for research in this area is endless. A simple and straightforward example is the issue of the storage of vast amounts of computerised evidence and the impact this storage has on the daily operation of the courts.
The Penal System
There is considerable debate over the appropriate treatment of individuals who have committed crimes. As society changes, the debate rages on and gives rise to the need for new research. The advent of corporations, for example, has given rise to discussions about who to punish when a corporation commits a crime. Research needs to be done on the deterrent effects of corporate crime policy decisions.
Technological change similarly provides continually expanding research opportunities. For example, the effective use of an electronic transmitter device in a house arrest situation is a phenomenon which would not have been studied in the past because they did not exist. Today, the technology itself can be studied as well as comparing the use of the devices to the effectiveness of prisons.