Measuring and Explaining Criminal Justice

Stephen D. Mastrofski, George Mason University

The study of criminal justice has for the most part ignored the most important questions for this field. How much justice is there? What accounts for the delivery of more justice? Of less justice? Most criminal justice research concerns itself with how the justice system operates, why it operates that way, and what effect it has on crime and disorder. How much punishment or social control the justice system delivers is, of course, a legitimate issue, but it begs the more difficult question of how much criminal justice it produces. This paper sets forth an agenda for scholarly measurement of justice and practical evaluations of justice processes -- evaluations that focus on promoting more justice and less injustice. This is accomplished by first considering several ways in which criminal justice might be conceptualized. It turns to some measurement issues. Next it sets forth a few sample propositions, the testing of which would advance our understanding of the circumstances under which more or less justice can be expected. The paper concludes by imagining systems of routine evaluation that would make the amount of criminal justice delivered in a system more transparent to the public and policy makers.

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Updated 05/20/2006