Law \ Legal

‘Integrated’ Justice Agency in Each State Could Strengthen Public Safety: Paper


Instead of trying to fix individual parts of the justice system, states should create a single regulatory agency that manages and sets standards for police, courts, and corrections, proposes an Oregon Law Review paper

Edward L. Rubin, a Vanderbilt University Law Professor, and Malcolm M. Feeley, a University of California-Berkeley law professor, argue that piecemeal reforms won’t have any lasting effect unless each state establishes an “administrative agency” to handle all aspects of justice.

“We recommend that each American state address the issue of criminal justice by establishing an administrative agency that unifies the functions of the police, prosecutors, courts, and prisons,” they write in a Vanderbilt Legal Studies Research Paper published in the Oregon Law Review.

“What we propose is simply that criminal justice be treated as another form of government regulation,” the authors added.

The paper argues that the various institutions within criminal justice fail to achieve crime prevention largely because of poor management—while at the same time they have  “alienated” the communities where public safety has been most under threat.

“Our so-called criminal justice system is in fact a disorganized mélange of
poorly supervised police departments, over-aggressive prosecutors, under-funded public defenders, chaotic criminal courts and overcrowded, under-controlled prisons and jails,” the paper says.

The paper asserts that a more comprehensive system, modeled after other state-based administrative agencies that regulate areas like health, consumer safety and employment, will lead to better management of resources, better coordination of functions within the system, and help focus attention on areas that are currently ignored or underdeveloped.

They cite policing as one example.

“The behavior of police departments has resulted in extensive human rights abuses and alienated inner city communities,” the authors write in. “[It conveys] to tens of millions of Americans the message that they live in a hostile and ill-governed nation.”

Nearly half of local police departments in the nation have fewer than 10 officers, which the authors indicate is an example of a system that provides poor allocation of resources, and ensures that officers in smaller agencies get less comprehensive training..

“Combined with the poor level of training and supervision that all but the largest American police departments are able to provide, the resulting mix of intentional brutality and accidental mayhem is virtually inevitable,” the authors write.

They also argue against sending officers into situations they may be ill-suited for, some of which call for other professionals, a change that has already been adopted by some jurisdictions  with the introduction of civilian violence interveners and mental health counseling teams.

“When a homeowner reports a burglary, the last thing that the responding officer needs is a gun and a uniform,” they write. “When a female victim reports a rape, the last thing she needs is a male officer with a gun and a uniform.”

Instead, the authors assert, a smarter administrative structure will allow authorities to direct help and public safety resources where they are needed.

The authors argue the administrative approach can also help in better management of courts and prisons which are historically underfunded and inefficient.

“Our criminal courts, particularly at the lower levels, are a continual refutation of every principle we claim for them,” the paper asserts.

“[They are] opaque, chaotic places where, as one of us has written, the process is the punishment.”

The authors acknowledge that their recommendations will not be popular, particularly because so much of the justice system is hostage to entrenched interests,

“Embracing the idea administrative governance is no guarantee of success,” they write. “But refusing to do so is almost certainly a recipe for continued failure.”

Edward Rubin is University Professor of Law and Political Science at Vanderbilt University.

Malcolm Feeley is the Claire Sanders Clements Professor Emeritus at the School of Law, University of California at Berkeley.

The paper was originally published in February, 2022. A revised version was posted online last month.

Download the complete paper here

James Van Bramer is Associate Editor of The Crime Report.

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