Critical criminology is a branch of study of crime that focuses on locating the origin of crime while seeking to interpret the meaning of justice within different social and status inequalities. Critical criminology is thus opposed to the traditional notion that criminals are a special category of people with criminal conduct being exceptional – a concept that has been used to justify the special manner in which crime has been acted upon. In proposing reforms for dealing with crime, the criminal justice system must become better equipped to deal with the social problems that qualify as a crime. Under critical criminology, reforms must also go beyond the limits of what is acceptable as public opinion. In line with observations made by Louk Hulsman (1986), for critical criminology to bring about desirable outcomes, the criminal justice system must work cohesively. It also ought to work towards achieving goals that are aligned with the needs of the communities they serve.
Critical criminology pays attention to the fact that crime is associated with particular groups, such as young men and unemployed. It also recognizes that the problematic definition of crime leads the criminal justice system to employ punitive measures to people who break the law without necessarily committing immoral acts. It questions the categorization of such acts as the possession of marijuana and tax evasion as a crime while seeking to determine the reasons why criminal behavior is concentrated in particular social classes. With critical criminology in place, it may be possible to correct wrongdoing fittingly in the sense that law would not be used to punish the poor and those in the seemingly dangerous class with the aim of protecting the welfare of those belonging to the respectable class. Instead, more focus would be dedicated to reducing social inequality, as well as addressing the issues that contribute to crime, rather than punishing wrongdoers.
Critical criminology has been supported on the basis that through critical research, it is not only possible to understand deviant behavior and its motivations better, but also have improved strategies for dealing with the crimes altogether. People from minority communities would be less vulnerable to prosecution, and the criminal justice system would be more meaningful as it would be able to exercise fairness.
Restorative justice is an approach of dealing with crime by organizing negotiation between the victim and the offender. Instead of punishing the offender through one-sided sentencing, restorative justice aims to discuss a resolution that satisfies all parties. The idea behind the concept is to help the offender to understand the negative repercussions of their actions, take responsibility for these actions, and provide them with the opportunity to redeem themselves. By involving the victim in these negotiations, it is hoped that the latter will play an active role, which is imperative in the attainment of justice.
According to a study conducted by Lawrence Sherman and Heather Strang (2007), compared to conventional criminal justice, restorative justice substantially reduces repeat offending; doubles the offenses brought to justice as a diversion from criminal justice and reduces costs of dealing with crime. Evidence of restorative justice is effectively reducing victims’ post-traumatic stress symptoms and related costs; better satisfaction for both the victim and the offender to the justice provided, in comparison to criminal justice; reduction of victims’ desire for revenge against their offenders; and reduced recidivism was also evident. The forms of restorative justice programs used to gather this evidence were court-ordered financial restitution and face-to-face meetings among all parties connected to the crime. Restorative justice is often implemented as a diversion from prosecution altogether to supplement probation and as a form of warning to young offenders. It is also relied upon during pre-sentencing or the post-conviction process and in preparation for release from long-term imprisonment to resettlement.
For restorative justice to be implemented in criminal cases, it is not uncommon for victims to be given the opportunity to testify about the impact that the crime had in their lives. Having done this, victims receive answers and play a role in holding the offender accountable for the crime. At the same time, the offender is offered the opportunity to tell their part of the story, explaining why they committed the crime. The offender is also given the opportunity to compensate the victim accordingly, which could be done by monetary compensation, expressing remorse, receiving education aimed at avoiding recidivism, and engagement in community service. In school settings, restorative justice is used to devise preventative measures geared towards helping students to live better in their communities while staying away from crime altogether.
As in the case in criminal cases, restorative justice in schools is also geared towards having fruitful conversations between the offender, the victim, and the school. In both cases, restorative justice recognizes accountability as a process in which the offender understands the impact of the crime and doing whatever is deemed fit for repairing harm. Restorative justice has been justified in a range of studies, which have demonstrated that it is more effective compared to conventional criminal justice (Sherman & Strang, 2007; Richards, 2011).
Peacemaking criminology is a perspective that suggests that alternative means can be used to create peaceful solutions to crime. It is argued that once implemented; peacemaking criminology can reduce the amount of violence in criminal justice and can be used to implement equitable justice. The goal of this approach is to use a peaceful approach to resolving the crime. However, the fact that it is not commonly used in the implementation of justice leads skeptics to question its efficacy. Peacemaking criminology has been implemented in bringing about solutions for domestic violence. It has been seen as a more effective solution compared to separation, which despite being intended at salvaging the safety of both the victim and the offender could lead to detrimental consequences, especially on the victim. In the Navajo nation, peacemaking is used as the alternative. The goal of peacemaking in Navajo is to provide women with a better option for healing their relationships with their estranged husbands than separation and arrests. In this case, the victims are given the opportunity to voice their thoughts and opinions on the kind of assistance they would want from the authorities. Peacemakers, who have undergone extensive training are involved in mediating the relationships by relying on cultural aspects that address the issues that the couples face.
Unlike the conventional approach to criminal justice, peacemaking criminology requires time, great effort, and patience. As demonstrated by the Navajo nation, an important first step for peaceful criminology is community policing. With this in place, the police work collaboratively with residents to improve the community, which works well because the police are tasked by the community to assist in enforcing the policies deemed fit by the residents, rather than merely working as agents of a criminal justice system to execute oppressive policies. The police department is extensively supported by the community and social interactions with residents is not uncommon. Peacemaking criminology relies on the supposition that the goal of the justice system should be resolving the underlying cause of crime, rather than simply responding to reports of a crime incident.
Peacemaking criminology has been supported as a more viable option to “911 policing”, used in the American justice system whereby the system is invested in more aggressive police officers, shorter response times, and more sophisticated technology (Clear & Karp, 1999; Richards, 2011). Instead, peacemaking criminology sees the importance of having police officers being more involved in the community and being more interested in solving problems that lead to crime, rather than just making arrests.
Transformative justice is the other philosophical approach for responding to crime. This form of seeking justice allows those who are directly affected by crime to find creative, healing solutions. The idea is to bring victims, offenders, families of the two parties, as well as their respective communities to use the past to come up with ideas for a better future. Rather than focusing on the offender and ways in which he can be punished, as is the way the current justice system is designed, transformative justice focuses on the questions that will help address the victim’s real needs, including determining who has been hurt and ways in which they can be healed. Moreover, transformative justice is effective in addressing the problems with the current justice system, including its expensive nature, the fact that it is unjust, its questionable morality, and its failures.
The expensive nature of the current system is contributed by the fact that offenders have to be contained in caged prisons, where they have to be watched by guards with huge sums of money being invested in surveillance. As such, the cost of maintaining a prisoner in the United States ranges between $80 and $200. The current system is also unjust as evidenced by the fact that individuals from particular racial backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses are overrepresented. The system is designed to punish minority races while overlooking the crimes committed by privileged whites. Moreover, the criminal justice system overlooks corporate crime, which is responsible for most of the social damage in society. The justice system is also considered to be immoral on the basis that it advocates for the caging of people and in extreme circumstances, the use of capital punishment to offenders. As such, instead of serving a correctional purpose, the justice system is inclined towards punishing wrongdoers without addressing the underlying cause of crime. The failure of the current justice system is demonstrated by high rates of recidivism. Recidivism rates in the United States range between 40 to 85 percent, showing that prisons not only fail to correct wrongdoers but also increase the possibility that they will commit more crime once released. Considering that prisons are only effective for dehumanizing and demeaning offenders, a more effective solution geared toward finding permanent solutions is preferable for addressing crime. Transformative justice is highly effective in doing this. The use of transformative justice in place of criminal justice has been supported by a wide range of scholars who believe that developed nations ought to look beyond punishing wrongdoers and instead focusing on providing justice for the victims (Coker, 2002; Dugard, 2008).
Clear, Todd R., and David R. Karp. The Community Justice Ideal. Boulder: Westview Press, 1999.
Coker, D. (2002). Transformative justice: Anti-subordination processes in cases of domesticviolence. Restorative justice and family violence, 128-52.
Dugard, J. (2008). Courts and the poor in South Africa: A critique of systemic judicial failures to advance transformative justice. South African Journal on Human Rights, 24(2), 214-238.
Hulsman, L. H. (1986). Critical criminology and the concept of crime. Contemporary Crises, 10(1), 63-80.
Moloney, J. (2009). Peacemaking Criminology. Undergraduate Review, 5(1), 78-83.
Richards, K. (2011). Restorative justice and “empowerment”: Producing and governing active subjects through “empowering” practices. Critical Criminology, 19(2), 91-105.
Richards, K. (2011). Restorative justice and “empowerment”: Producing and governing activesubjects through “empowering” practices. Critical Criminology, 19(2), 91-105.
Sherman, L. W., Strang, H., Barnes, G., Bennett, S., Angel, C. M., Newbury-Birch, D., … & Gill, C. E. (2007). Restorative justice: The evidence.