The criminal justice system has been used since its inception to control the lower classes. It has been used as an agent of social control, and its values and beliefs are derived from the politically elite. Today, as well as in the past, people have criticized this system for its systematic racism and prejudice. People often wonder why minorities make up a small percentage of the population, yet are over-represented in jails and prisons across America. However, the criminal justice system has come a long way since antebellum America, and as society has given minorities and women more rights and privileges, the justice system has emulated society's behavior. Although racism and prejudice may still exist, it is far less blatant than in the past. Melton McLaurin, in Celia, A Slave, and Patricia Cohen, in The Murder of Helen Jewett, describe a segment of U.S. history in their stories and explain how the values and beliefs of society at that time, infiltrated into the criminal justice system.
Celia, A Slave, describes the story of a slave who killed her master. Robert Newsom was a well-to-do Southerner who lived in Missouri and purchased Celia when she was a teenager. Throughout her adolescence Newsom used his slave for sexual gratification. As Celia became older she fell in love with another slave named George. As this relationship grew stronger, George wanted her to stop having sex with their master, or he would exit the relationship. This ultimatum put Celia in a bind, and she explained to her master that she didn't want to have sex with him anymore. Newsom didn't listen to her and when he went to her cabin one night for sex, and wouldn't listen to her pleas for him to stop trying to force her into intercourse, she killed him. At her trial, her attorney John Jameson put up a valient effort to save her from execution. However, Jameson was making arguments in favor of a slave in a society who viewed slaves as property, and fundamental to their economic prosperity.