In today’s society, the criminal justice system is one of the critical divisions that focuses on maintaining peace and ensures that justice remains a crucial component of the community. To perform the above role effectively, the criminal justice system relies on criminal justice theory. The latter is defined as a branch of philosophy that deals with criminal justice and, more specifically, places emphasis on punishment in the society (E. R. Maguire & Uchida, 2007). This science has deep foundations in ethics and political philosophy.

Classical criminal theory advocates for the use of punishments in controlling societies, thereby creating harmony and protecting people within the community from any form of harm. The theory of criminal justice considers several important components such as the true definition of criminal justice system and the difference between the criminal justice system and other systems. Criminal justice theory features four important aspects including corrective justice, procedural justice, distributive justice, and retributive justice. Retributive justice focuses on providing appropriate punishments as a response to the crimes committed. It is best captured by the phrase “an eye for an eye” (Bernard & Engel, 2001).

However, it is important to note that the criminal justice is no longer a purely retributive undertaking, as other important components of punishments should also be considered in today’s society. Corrective justice is based on the principle that liability rectifies past offenses committed by an individual. In turn, procedural justice is based on the ability to resolve cases existing in the society in an elaborate and peaceful manner (Bernard & Engel, 2001). It considers the rights of all individuals; more specifically, it presumes that everyone is innocent until they have been proven guilty. The last component is distributive justice that seeks to allocate all resources to all the parties involved in the criminal justice system in an equitable manner. Currently, all of the above components have been included in criminal justice theory as they are aimed at redressing the missing parts in the theory. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that there is no standard definition of the criminal justice theory as it incorporates many important aspects. Thus, the current debate among scholars revolves around the true definition of the criminal justice theory.

Criminal justice remains one of the rapidly developing fields in the current world. It emerged in the late 1960s at the University of Albany (E. R. Maguire & Uchida, 2007) and has continued to grow at an unprecedented rate though there is still a need to monitor the evolution of important concepts in criminal justice. In essence, there is a profound lack of theoretical perspectives relating to the theory. Most programs that have been developed to study criminal justice are largely made up of scattergun approaches which fail to go beyond the basic concepts of police, corrections, and courts (E. R. Maguire & Uchida, 2007). As a result, the growth and vitality of the theory have been greatly hindered. Today, it is commonly confused with other areas such as social sciences and anthropology because of the resemblance of some important philosophical perspectives.

Criminal justice differs from criminology though most scholars view it as applied criminology. Other groups classify it as a subset of criminology. Essentially, criminology specifically deals with studying criminal behavior in a society (Snipes & Maquire, 2015). On the contrary, criminal justice focuses on the official responses applied to specific behaviors in the society. Theoretically, criminology has been largely criticized for being fragmented and its inability to distinguish between criminal behavior and crime, while criminal justice lacks such perspectives and shares neither of the above perspectives. In addition, criminal justice is viewed as an applied field, what necessitates educating criminal justice practitioners (Snipes & Maquire, 2015). Criminal justice is commonly taught across different departments and in diverse areas such as sociology, public affairs, law, philosophy, and a combination of other hybrid programs. As a result, it has a totally different structure compared to other areas of criminology. Its structures, reward systems, and disciplinary background prevent it from being classified within specific areas of criminology, thereby making some scholars define it as a field that requires being studied on its own.

In other words, criminal justice should be classified as one comprehensive standalone domain. By viewing criminal justice as a branch of applied criminology, scientists will primarily focus on the aspects of crime and criminals in the society (Kraska, 2006). This definition normally narrows the knowledge and application of criminal justice to criminals and crime related to criminal justice actors. Scientific knowledge shows that crime theories are different from the theories related to criminal justice. Additionally, criminal justice is limited in its application, especially when it comes to providing the information about the ways of reducing crime rates in the society.

Sunderland defines criminal justice as the study of crime; as a result, there is an impression that criminal justice only exists in societies that have crime (Snipes & Maquire, 2015). In essence, crime is viewed as any form of deviant behavior differing from the set standards of the rules and regulations in the society. As a result, most of the societal processes are geared towards some form of punishment in response to a crime committed in the society. This form of punishment is considered under criminal justice. However, it is important to note that today different communities across the world apply different forms of punishment for different crimes. In some societies, the punishment for crimes is harsher compared to other communities. In some communities, there is a lack of elaborate punishment for any form of deviant behavior; as a result, the community or society has no criminal justice system (Kraska, 2006). Thus, much emphasis has been placed on understanding crime instead of understanding important concepts in criminal justice such as the differences in punishments in various societies of the modern world.

Theoretically, the focus should be shifted onto understanding the unique nature of different punishments or their lack in societies. This would primarily define the structure of criminal justice, with different forms of punishment forming its focal point. Essentially, all societies define their laws by outlining the principles or regulations that should be adhered. When the laws are violated, a crime is considered to have occurred, and, consequently, a form of punishment may be applied. In case the society failed to designate any incidence as a crime, then there would be fewer chances of such events ever happening; as a result, no form of crime or punishment would be applied or studied in the society. In this respect, studying criminal justice would provide more convincing reasons as to why different societies in the modern world opt to punish some parties more severely than others (Bernard & Engel, 2001; Duffee & Allan, 2007; Snipes & Maquire, 2015). It would also provide information on the reasons different societies currently prefer means such as correctional processes to stiff and harsh punishments.

Theoretical Understanding of Criminal Justice Theory

In today’s criminal justice system applied worldwide there is a tendency towards neglecting the theoretical understanding of the criminal justice system, in particular, by such players as the police, courts of law, and even television shows (Duffee & Allan, 2007; Snipes & Maquire, 2015). This has raised the fundamental question of the possibility of empirical investigation in the criminal justice system that could provide definitive answers to certain issues. To analyze the above situation, it is important to understand scientific theory, non-scientific theory, and non-theory since the answer lies herein. Anything related to scientific theory refers to a well-established and substantiated explanation of a theory or some other important concept that has been acquired through a scientific approach and methods and, at the same time, tested separately and confirmed through the use of a specific form of protocol and experiments (Bachman & Schutt, 2013). Ideally, a scientific theory can be easily experimented with, with the results providing the information of the exact happenings under the above theory. In other words, scientific theories are validated after experimental analysis has been conducted (Bachman & Schutt, 2013). In this regard, the information about most scientific theories available in the current world has been proven after experimental analysis has been carried out.

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Although criminal justice encompasses many different theories, most of its aspects and concepts do not follow the scientific approach; therefore, it becomes quite difficult to report and validate such kinds of findings. If these findings were present, the results could be more easily accepted by people from different areas of the criminal justice system, from the court of law to the police and talk shows. However, since most of the information present in literature cannot be validated, the police and courts cannot to utilize this data (Maxfield, 2015). Therefore, it is worth noting that criminal justice theory has been neglected because of its invalidated nature. Nonetheless, it is important to mention that the courts and the police would apply a concept that has already been tested and determined to be effective in any societal groupings present in today’s world. In this respect, the punishment theory could serve as an illustrative example. The analysis below focuses on the punishment theory, which is directly linked to the existence of criminal justice in most societies and remains one of the commonly used methods in the criminal justice systems across the continent.

The punishment theory generally falls into two philosophies: retributive and utilitarian. The latter is commonly utilized as a method of punishing offenders so that other individuals in the society can be deterred from engaging in similar acts. The retributive theory seeks to punish offenders because they deserve to be punished for breaking or violating the law within the confines of the societal setting (Ewing, 2013; Tonry, 2016). There is a huge divide in investigating these areas since there already exist different forms of punishment; hence, the research conducted in one area will not necessarily alter the beliefs present in the other. The utilitarian law requires that laws be maximized for the benefit or happiness of the society. Since crime and punishment are normally incompatible with the issue of happiness, they are supposed to be kept to a minimum in the society (Ewing, 2013; Tonry, 2016). In essence, most of the representatives of the utilitarian philosophy would believe that a crime-free society does not exist, though there is a need to inflict a given form of punishment to prevent future occurrences from happening. The utilitarian theory is consequentialist in nature since it recognizes that punishment has an effect on both the society and the offender; consequently, the total effect of punishment in the society does not produce the desired results.

In other words, the utilitarian theory states that punishment should be limited within the society. A good example is the release of a prisoner who is suffering from a terminal disease. If death is already imminent, then there is no need for confining such an individual since it does the society no good. Under this philosophy, it is also possible for laws to specify the type of punishment to be applied for individuals who have committed a specific form of crime. Deterrence is meant to show the society that such actions are taken within the confines of the law; thus, the punishment inflicted will either be similar or worse (Ewing, 2013; Tonry, 2016; Zehr, 2015). A representative example of deterrence is the arrest and incarceration of individuals who have committed some form of crime. The rehabilitation period is meant to provide an individual with an opportunity not to engage in such crimes again within the confines of the law.

The retributive theory focuses on offenders who are being punished for specific criminal offenses (Ewing, 2013; Tonry, 2016; Zehr, 2015). This theory holds that criminal behaviors upset the balance and order necessary in the society; as a result, a punishment would help reduce the level of entropy in the community. From the standpoint of the retributive theory, human beings have free will in making rational decisions. The theory also claims that an insane offender should not be punished. Retributivists view punishment as a form of vengeance that is paid by the wrong doers because of the suffering they have placed people through (M. Maguire, Morgan, & Reiner, 2012 ). To other theorists, the use of retribution is justified as it protects the rights of the society and the offender, thereby showing respect for free will. Punishment shows respect for the other party as it allows them to pay their debt and return to the society.

A closer analysis of this punishment theory would reveal several inadequacies, especially with regard to its application in the current society. If individuals commit heinous crimes that result in the death of other people in the society, they become a threat to the society itself. If such individuals are rehabilitated, as in the system above suggests, there are still chances that they may engage in the same criminal activities (Bachman & Schutt, 2013). Fundamentally, a number of people, who have been incarcerated in courts and rehabilitated, do not necessarily go back to the society and fail to commit crimes. At the same time, there are no specific methods or criteria that can be used to show that certain forms of punishment applied to individuals would directly result in better outcomes for the society. Moreover, the most effective method of punishing individuals who commit different crimes has not been discovered yet, nor has it been proven whether the use of the retributive or utilitarian principles should apply in the above case. In addition, no information has been provided on the exact time of applying either of the theories of punishment or what would happen in societies that have no form of punishment or those whose way of thinking is not guided by such philosophies.

Due to the above effects, different parties have ignored important theoretical knowledge relating to both areas because of the lack of validated findings. Today, in courts of law, judges apply a maximum sentence to an individual who has committed grave crimes in the society while other crimes are penalized differently, although both incidences are considered as crimes and have a negative effect on the society (Bachman & Schutt, 2013; Tonry, 2016). At the same time, judges can apply any of the above theories in selecting a punishment for the individual without necessarily focusing on specific past events. Therefore, in some cases, people who committed the same offense may be jailed for a different period in different areas. In other words, because most of the theories that are present in criminal justice have not been validated, it is difficult to use them in most settings. In the judiciary arm of the government and more so in today’s criminal justice system, judges do not rely on theory or literature until the information is validated to be effective (Bachman & Schutt, 2013). Likewise, in most television shows people would like to discuss or provide information that has been validated rather than making assumptions about the events that have not occurred.

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The major reason why theoretical perspectives related to criminal justice are being neglected is the lack of validation of the majority of theories. In essence, the greater part of criminal justice theory has not been proven and, as a result, cannot be applied. The members of the court as well as other interested parties would like to use the information that has been validated and proven in different areas. If criminal justice theory were based on scientific theory, then most of its findings would have significantly influenced the societies. Since it is grounded in non-theory and non-scientific theory, it fails to meet the validation tests.

Factors Affecting Criminal Justice Reform

The criminal justice system has always been in need of far-reaching reforms though it has been hindered by different factors from the past. First, it is the presence and application of different theoretical perspectives. Some parties believe in different theories that should form the processes in the criminal justice system. For example, under punishment, there are parties who believe that retributive justice should form a bulk approach utilized by many judges while others believe in different punishment theories. This moving back and forth trying to determine the best method has not produced the desired results in the criminal justice system so far. Other important parties that play a significant role in determining the way the criminal justice system is run have been divided based on the most appropriate form of reform to implement. Ideally, there should be many different theories that are supposed to guide judges in selecting the method to apply in a particular situation. Secondly, there is a lack of a clear and elaborate precedent set by other criminal justice systems that could be followed and applied. Essentially, most theories under the criminal justice system have not been validated; as a result, there are few systems that have established proper standards that should be looked up to. If there were more theories providing information on the best possible system to be utilized, then the reform process in the judiciary could have probably been carried out much faster compared to the previous years.

Another factor affecting the reform process is the lack of research on the criminal justice system. Criminal justice has largely been studied under other areas such as crime and criminology. As a result, it has remained one of the areas with little information. A good starting point in this direction would be to identify the differences in punishment in various societies and the way people react to punishment within the criminal justice setting. Research could also provide information on the most appropriate form and new methods of punishment that are geared towards the principles of rehabilitation of individuals in the societies. Some areas that need to be reformed include the reduction in the number of people who have been incarcerated due to the high racial profiling cases in some countries and the provision of more facilities for people. Another reason is the current belief in the society that criminal justice is applied criminology. Basically, it means that the focus is directed towards the study of crimes and criminology rather than the study of criminal justice. As long as the criminal justice system is still viewed as an application of crime and criminology, it will still receive less attention than it really deserves; as a result, less information and research on the above area will appear. For adequate reforms to be carried out in the criminal justice system, it is necessary to single it out as a totally different and separate entity and a domain that is to be studied on its own. However, at present, because of the current emphasis on crime and criminology as the major areas of study, little progress is made in reforming criminal justice, which is still treated as a subset of applied criminology or a response to crime.

Criminal Justice Reform and Criminal Justice Theory

There exists a direct link between criminal justice theory and criminal justice reform. Detailed research on criminal could provide an elaborate path directed toward solving some problems commonly witnessed in today’s criminal justice system. For example, the criminal justice system is more focused on the punishment of the individuals who have gone against one or more ideals present in the society or those who have committed certain acts that have been defined by the society as being against the law. Since different societies practise different form of punishments, more research on the reasons why certain punishments are administered in some areas could provide alternative methods that could help improve the reform process. In this respect, the death penalty could serve as an illustrative example. In some countries across the world, certain offenses that are considered simple may attract high penalties such as the death penalty. Studying these offenses in different societies could help identify alternative methods in dealing with such forms of punishment. As a result, a society may discover a new method of controlling certain forms of punishment. In this regard, it is also possible to draw a comparison between the types of punishment theory utilized at present. This way, theoretical information about the punishment theory could be employed to solve or reform some of the problems the criminal justice system currently faces. In other words, studying and researching criminal justice theory provides a platform for the identification of solutions in criminal justice reforms. However, this may only be possible if criminal justice is studied as an area on its own and not mixed in any way with other areas such as crime and criminology.

The current theoretical assumption that dominates most television viewers as well as other parties is the concept of applied criminology and the criminal justice system as a response to crime. When criminal justice is considered as applied criminal justice, there is a key deviation from studying the subject of interest, which in this case is associated with a behavioral response to the issues emerging in the societies and shifting towards criminology which focuses on studying criminal behavior. The consequences of studying criminal justice as applied criminology result in coming up with reforms that are geared towards criminology rather than towards criminal justice. In this regard, the emphasis will be placed on studying the cause of crime and its consequences in the society. For example, one of the common causes of crime in different countries is the high unemployment rate. A reform in the employment area will lead to creating new jobs that will significantly reduce the rates of crime is specific areas, while criminal justice is concerned with the establishment of systems that effectively deal with the detection of crime, detaining of criminals, as well as prosecution and punishment of individuals.

Investigating the causes of crimes and introducing the necessary reforms will reduce crime, thereby solving the problems related to criminology and not focusing on the problems associated with the present criminal justice system. Today, in most television shows, the police officers are linked to the criminal justice system. The duties of police officers include detecting crime and detaining criminals as well as the prosecution while the courts decide on the mechanism of punishment. Similarly, the police perform a significant role in establishing the cause of crime in societies and putting in place the measures aimed at reducing its incidence. However, when criminal activities occur in some area, the blame will largely fall on the police because they play a more important part in detecting crime rather than in focusing on the causes of crime within societies. In other words, criminal justice theory is often confused with criminology; hence, when criminal justice is viewed as applied criminology, reforms will largely focus on the issues central to criminology rather than on the problems pressing for the criminal justice system.

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The theoretical understanding of the criminal justice system separates criminology from the criminal justice system and advocates for the establishment and studying of criminal justice as an independent area free from criminology and crime. The focus on the above subject will reveal key gaps in criminal justice and, with more research conducted, the information may be implemented in the form of reforms.

Television and personal opinions have consistently defined criminal justice as a response to crime. Generally, most divisions within the current system are viewed as entities that respond to crime. For example, the police are supposed to respond to a particular crime committed in a specific area while the courts should impose a punishment on the individuals who permit or engage in a certain form of criminal activity. Based on the way most societies define their laws, their breakage commonly results in the application of a specific form of punishment. If the laws that determine the right and the wrong did not exist, then no crime and punishment would occur in the society. In this regard, a more effective approach would be the study of the punishment applied in societies. Most crimes would then be punished differently, thereby becoming a key area for research. Thus, the research in the areas associated with punishments would provide the society with elaborate methods for conducting criminal justice reforms.

Street Level Bureaucracies

In a number of cases, agents of social control in the societies may act as a major hindrance in the criminal justice reform through what is commonly termed as street level bureaucracies. These bureaucracies refer to governmental agents in different workplaces such as schools, police posts, magistrate courts, legal and welfare services, which have some form of benefits associated with the specific role they play in the society. Traditionally, two major features define individuals who are part of street level bureaucracies. First, they can exercise some of the discretion powers in the society. In addition, the majority of them do not perform their jobs to the set standards because they either lack the time or are short of financial resources required to perform most of their roles. As a result, most of these governmental officers come up with a specific form of policies that are similar among public officers. Many opt to create routines in handling the tasks associated with them in a bid to control their psychological wellbeing in the society.

When the agents of the criminal justice system, such as the police, legal services, welfare services, and the lower courts, do not perform their roles as expected, they are more likely to fail in implementing the established policies of the criminal justice system. In this case, they are applying the laws at the time convenient for them and not as required by the criminal justice system. For example, reforms in the police service require that suspects be presented before a court of law within twenty-four hours of arrest. However, if the police present the person in a court of law after three or four days due to the heavy workload or the arbitrary arrest of an individual without any crime, they would be working against the reforms in the criminal justice system. In addition, the police officers are supposed to develop schedules or routines that enable carrying out certain activities and postponing others. In essence, this contributes to creating a backlog of cases in most places, thereby affecting the functioning of the criminal justice system. It is important to note that justice should be applied in a timely manner, without any delays in all justice system departments across the world. However, in this case, the routines formulated by the officers in charge do not work at the rate required to facilitate the reforms in the criminal justice system.

From this perspective, the routines developed by the police officers and all the other agents involved as well as the different methods, that public officers normally choose, form the policy applied in the society. This policy will differ considerably from the policy to be applied by the criminal justice reform system. Whenever the two policies do not match, the implementation of reforms in the criminal justice system is severely affected. The main reason behind this is the introduction of reforms to a system controlled and influenced by its own policy. Essentially, the new reforms in the criminal justice system serve as new policies. These policies have to be introduced in the street level bureaucracies to address certain changes emerging. Some factors to consider when implementing reforms are their impact on the above-mentioned parties that control most of the processes and their attitudes towards implementing some of the reforms. The introduction of the reforms in the legislative process may go smoothly; however, before the implementation of some policies or reforms advocated for by the criminal justice system, the real issues might occur at the decision-making levels where different factors are at play. Some of them include the interests of minority or special groups and the individual struggle of the workers implementing the new rules. For example, in the United States, the random stopping of African -American driving cars by the police officers is quite high compared to any other group. In essence, this is a direct form of racial profiling against individuals based on personal stereotypic tendencies.

In most cases, police officers would argue that they have stopped the car because the driver acted in a different manner, which is not true. There is no policy requiring the racial stopping of cars; even if it were a new policy implemented to reduce racial imbalances, individual activities such as the one described above would have a negative effect on the reforms. Another common example is the arbitrary arrests of individuals who have not committed a crime. In some incidences, the police opt to arrest the individual walking down a street because they consider him or her suspicious. The police department never sanctions such actions although they are commonly applied in most police settings across the world. Thus, all of the above testifies to the effects of individual behavioral tendencies that are blocking the steps geared towards reforming the criminal justice system. In this case, the police officers act at their own discretion without observing proper protocols, rules, or regulations.

Street level bureaucracies tend to favor some individuals in the society over the rest. Normally, the same law governs all people, promoting equality in all processes and services. However, when some individual members of the society apply to the legal office, lower courts, or even welfare services, their needs are addressed in the shortest time possible while the needs of the normal parties sometimes take longer periods before being dealt with. Reforms would not work effectively in a system that fails to treat all individuals under the same law. Once a party is above the law or favored, some aspects of the new policy may not be implemented on them while the other members of the society may feel the full effects of the law.

Most individuals working in the criminal justice system enter it with the hope that they are going to perform their role as per the books and implement the reforms required by different systems that may be in place. Ideally, such goals are realistic, objective, and easily accessible. The only major problem is that the above parties have to balance them with the work pressure and distressed clientele that often distract their attention from their main ambition; as a result, these individuals try to follow their long-term goals, which include performing their jobs at the optimum level. However, in reality, suboptimal job performance is commonly witnessed. Finally yet importantly, individuals under street level bureaucracies can easily compromise because of the roles they play in the society; hence, they end up not attaining the set targets and engaging in the wrong acts affecting their overall performance.


Criminal justice theory provides information that separates criminal justice from criminology and crime as well as identifies it as a domain on its own. The theoretical knowledge of the criminal justice system is absent because it cannot be validated empirically due to its non-scientific foundation. This creates a gap that has not been filled yet. The application of criminal justice reforms is dependent on the research carried out under the criminal justice system. Thus, the reforms in the criminal justice can be adopted when street level bureaucracies are either eliminated or significantly reduced.

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