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Two ‘models’ of criminal justice

Article on models of criminal justice.
two jigsaw pieces
© University of York

To help us to think about how criminal justice systems reflect the priorities of stakeholders, some authors have developed so-called ‘models’ of criminal justice. These should not be read as direct representations of any given criminal justice system, but they identify features of criminal justice systems which reflect particular priorities and values.

The best known contribution here is by Herbert Packer in his book The Limits of the Criminal Sanction (1968). Packer developed two key models – the due process and crime control models of criminal justice.

  • The due process model prioritises the interests of the individual suspect who is confronted by the mighty power of the State. Such an individual is entitled to a presumption of innocence, and should not be found guilty of an offence other than by way of clearly defined and formal decision-making processes. This model suggests that the criminal process sets legitimate obstacles to the State, which must be negotiated if a conviction is to be secured.

  • By contrast, the crime control model was suggested to reflect the values of an assembly line rather than an obstacle course. This model reflects the prioritisation of the efficient suppression of criminal activity in the interests of public order. It involves speedy, informal and routinised processes which are administered by criminal justice agents – e.g., police and prosecutors – with the expertise to make sound judgements under those conditions.

When you are looking at any aspect of the criminal justice process, you can ask yourself whether it reflects due process and / or crime control priorities. You can be doing so in relation to the processes you encounter in this course.


HL Packer (1968) The Limits of the Criminal Sanction Stanford University Press

© University of York
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From Crime to Punishment: an Introduction to Criminal Justice

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