ICCJ Monograph No 9:  Justice, with Reason: Rethinking the Economics of Crime and Justice


Dr Kevin Albertson, Professor Chris Fox


Economic ideas and concepts have always influenced thinking about crime and criminal justice. Increasingly, however, criminologists, policy-makers and practitioners who draw on, or seek to critique, economic ideas take a rather narrow view of economics based on the prevailing orthodoxy: neo-liberalism. Neo-liberalism, vulgarly conceived, assumes society is comprised of self-serving, instrumentally rational actors. This narrow view is, we argue, to the detriment of a more holistic consideration of criminal justice theory, policy and practice. Moreover, criminal justice policy debates have arguably become entrenched in ideological positions with one side seeing ‘the market’ as a panacea for all society’s ills and the other side suggesting any form of ‘privatisation’ is unacceptable. It is our contention that a fuller and more encompassing theoretical paradigm of criminal and social justice is possible: one that is grounded in the ‘new economics’ that is coalescing at the intersection of economics, behaviour economics and social psychology. In this monograph we rethink the economics of crime and justice. The monograph begins by considering, the impact on criminology of Rational Choice theory. We go on to discuss and critique the prevailing economic paradigm – so called neo-liberalism. In particular, we highlight the findings of behavioural economists that human beings are not completely rational or self-serving. We suggest human decision making is based on a process which might be described as reasonable, rather than rational. Being reasonable does not, however, necessarily imply irrationality. The implications of these ideas are illustrated through discussion of a range of criminal justice policies and practices. We suggest a justice policy designed to deter extrinsically motivated, instrumentally rational agents from crime or rehabilitate offenders, might prove inefficient at encouraging intrinsically motivated humans to respect moral intuitions and wider social mores, both at the level of the system and the individual. Finally we sketch out some of the implications for criminal justice practice and policy. We suggest that this model provides a useful framework for operationalising desistance-based approaches such as the Good Lives Model and more 'personalised' approaches to working with offenders. At a commissioning level our model suggests the importance of a mixed economy of provision, local commissioning and social innovation in delivering more these more personalised approaches . At a broader level our model suggests how a Good Lives Model of offender rehabilitation and a complementary set of commissioning practices can be combined to deliver the original aspirations of the Justice Reinvestment movement whose early advocates saw it as a means of delivering a wider social justice agenda.

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