Smoke and Mirrors: Justice Administration as Symbolic Reassurance

Ronald D. Hunter, State University of West Georgia
John Fuller, State University of West Georgia

This paper takes a social constructionist approach in assessing the administration of justice within America. The authors examine why laws are made and how they are enforced in making the argument that the criminal justice system was not designed to punish, deter or treat lawbreakers but to "symbolically reassure" law abiding members of society. Most citizens are seen as conforming to society's rules, not because they fear punishment, but because they believe in the system. Therefore, the authors conclude that what constitutes "justice" is determined by what political elites view the sentiments of the middle class to be. Trends in justice issues are decided based upon what elites think that the conforming masses are needing to observe in order to feel good about their own compliance. The making of laws and administration of punishments are seen as being arbitrary acts that are designed to demonstrate to conformists that their compliance is appreciated by the ruling elites.

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Updated 05/20/2006