December - 1997
Vol# 13 - Issue# 11
Two Goals of Criminal Justice
-Charles Wellford (University of Maryland at College Park)
It has been understood that a criminal justice system has two primary and possible conflicting goals: preventing and controlling crime, and achieving justice. In the United States this was made most clear by the title of the final report of the President's Commission on Law and Enforcement, "The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society." When we think of a criminal justice system, we ordinarily first think of its role in crime prevention and control. This is an important role, one that criminal justice systems have often tried to ignore, but which recently we have come to understand, they cannot. The criminal justice system can be a very powerful element in the prevention of crime and in the response to citizens who are victims of crime. The emphasis on community policing, community courts, community prosecution, community sentencing, and numerous other developments in criminal justice in recent years have emphasized the role the justice system plays in reducing crime.
Unfortunately, there has not been a comparable emphasis on the role of the criminal justice system in achieving justice. In fact, many scholars have argued that these are two competing interests of a society and that they cannot be simultaneously achieved. This notion was best expressed in the work of Herbert Packer, who argued that there were two models for the criminal justice system: one emphasizing crime control, the other emphasizing due process. I believe, while there is tension between these two, that in fact, these goals reinforce each other more often than they conflict. The criminal justice system that is just: one that is fair, responds equally to individuals, affords individuals the full rights attributed to them by their society, and which seeks to reinforce the community's desire for crime control and justice will in fact be a more effective system of controlling crime.
In recent years in the United States we have seen fairly substantial decreases in the public support for criminal justice agencies. Public opinion surveys show a gradual decline in the proportion of the population that perceives police, courts, and correctional subsystems of the criminal justice system to be doing a good or excellent job. This decrease in public support is in part the justification for the current emphasis on community throughout the justice system. As the justice system recognizes and accepts its responsibility for contributing to the control of crime, it also recognizes its need for cooperation and support from the community to do this. This cooperation and support can only be achieved if the community believes that the criminal justice system is operating in its interest. Hence, the connection between a just system and an effective system. While achieving both of these will be more difficult than achieving one or the other, our experience demonstrates that both can be maximized and that crime prevention cannot be achieved without the support of the community that comes from their acceptance of the justness of their criminal justice system.
What can we do to encourage this movement toward an emphasis on crime control and justice? A first step will be the opening up of criminal justice systems to public view and discussion. I offer here as an example sentencing guideline systems and other mechanisms that bring public scrutiny to the sentencing process. As long as the judiciary operates without substantial public involvement, there will be suspicion about the nature of the judicial function. In some instances the suspicion will be accompanied with respect and awe, where individuals feel they cannot understand, and therefore, cannot participate. In others, it will be accompanied by a lack of respect which will undermine the effectiveness of a judicial system. Guidelines and other systems where the determination of sentencing within legally prescribed ranges involves a public discussion and the establishment of an articulated public policy of sentencing, provide the window that allows citizens to better understand and support the sente