The Case for Procedural Justice: Fairness as a Crime Prevention Tool

Procedural justice provides a platform to begin addressing some of these shortcomings. In courts, among other things, this takes the form of rethinking how courtroom rules are posted, explained, and enforced, or how court clerk or court officers provide information while court is in session.

There are countless analogs from the court environment that are applicable to other justice system players, including law enforcement. Below are a few strategies for implementation that can be applied by police departments to enhance procedural justice:

Humanize the experience: Appearing approachable and accessible is a key component of procedural justice. When interviewing suspects or witnesses, make eye contact and use body language to convey respect. Thank citizens for their cooperation with the process as a means of yielding increased cooperation in the future.

Explain what you\’re doing and why: For many individuals, a routine traffic stop or other interaction with law enforcement can be a traumatic event. The legal jargon and procedures (familiar to practitioners in the field) can be confusing and intimidating to the average person. Whenever possible, use simple terms to explain your actions, the legal and/or practical reasons for doing so, and any consequences they may have for the person. For example, when issuing a summons, clearly explain the process for appearing in court to resolve the matter—including providing directions to the courthouse, if and how a lawyer will be provided, and whether there are options to resolve the matter by mail or online. These strategies can help promote compliance.

Create opportunities for individuals to be heard: Giving people an opportunity to speak and have their concerns heard can add a few extra minutes to the average interaction, but it is time well spent. Research shows that having your voice heard increases perceptions of fairness, even when the person is told that his views will not influence the ultimate decision or outcome. Consider how to maximize the citizens\’ voice in contexts where it may be limited, such as traffic and street stops or walk-in inquiries.

Consider environmental factors: Criminal justice facilities—like many government buildings—can be difficult to navigate for those unfamiliar with their halls. As an exercise, try to examine your facility with fresh eyes from the perspective of a new user. In high-traffic areas, ensure that building rules and instructions for getting assistance are clearly posted, easy to read, and provided in commonly spoken languages other than English, if necessary.

Use research to show the value of procedural justice: As with any new approach, there will be skeptics, but the research that supports the concept is compelling. Providing colleagues with the research on the impact of procedural fairness can offer a concrete and focused foundation for trainings and other implementation efforts, helping to counteract knee-jerk skepticism.

Law enforcement professionals are typically the first point of contact for people processed through the justice system. Procedural justice strategies like the ones listed above—when delivered early in the process—can help shape an individual\’s perception of the system

via The Case for Procedural Justice: Fairness as a Crime Prevention Tool.



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