III. Theoretical Orientations: Infrastructure Beginnings
The problem addressed here has been carefully framed as one of recognition and accessibility. If one conceives of criminal justice theory as a body of literature attempting to make theoretical sense of the various objects of study noted earlier, the problem also lies in the labels that are used to identify particular areas of scholarship.
Labels signify well-guarded intellectual territory. And has already been established, the label criminal justice studies is associated with atheoretical research and writing. Accordingly, even groups of scholars targeting their theoretical efforts explicitly on criminal justice phenomena would likely resist having their work identified as “developing criminal justice theory.” They would instead label their endeavors theories of social control (sociology proper, sociolegal studies, and sociology of punishment), theories of late-modern trends in crime control (punishment and governmentality studies), theories of oppression (critical criminology), or theories of public organization (public administration). Despite a lack of recognition and conscious pursuit of a theoretical project, there exists a substantial amount of theoretical work about criminal justice phenomena that can be conceived credibly as criminal justice theory.
One good example is the rigorous theoretical work in sociolegal studies and in the sociology of punishment. Here we have a rich intellectual project targeted at theorizing recent shifts in the crime control apparatus (see, e.g., Bauman, 2000; Garland, 1997, 2001a, 2001b; O’Malley, 1999, 2000; Rose, 2000; Simon, 1995; Simon & Feeley, 1994). Theorizing criminal justice in this instance is contextualized within the field of social control, which probably accounts for why this highly informative body of work has not had a significant impact on mainstream criminal justice and criminology literature and textbooks. Its influence is starting to take hold, though, in particular in the works of David Garland (The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society, 2001a) and Jonathan Simon (“The New Penology: Notes on the Emerging Strategy of Corrections and Its Implications,” Feeley & Simon, 2006; and Governing Through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear, Simon, 2007).
Another interesting example can be found in the field of critical criminology. For the last 25 years, scholarship in this area has examined the state’s oppression of marginalized groups (women, the poor, racial minorities, homosexuals) by means of the criminal justice system. This body of work could in fact be viewed legitimately as far more concerned with developing theories of crime control, specifically, oppressive state behavior, as opposed to crime behavior (see, e.g., Arrigo, 1999; Barak, Flavin, & Leighton, 2001;Martin&Jurik, 1996; J. Miller, 1996; S. L. Miller, 1998; Milovanovic & Russell, 2001; Parenti, 1999; Reiman, 2001; Shelden, 2001). This is the reason critical criminological theory fits awkwardly into traditional crime theory textbooks: The bulk of its explanatory attention concentrates on the behavior of the law, the government, and/or the state. Despite these various avenues for developing criminal justice theory, the field still does not have a well-recognized theoretical infrastructure about criminal justice.
To begin the process of rectifying this situation, Kraska (2004, 2006) has published two works that advance the obvious approach of identifying and articulating the contours of eight different theoretical orientations found in traditional and contemporary scholarship about the criminal justice system and trends in crime control.
A useful first step in mapping the vast terrain of criminal justice theory, therefore, would be to identify and elucidate the basic tenets of the various theoretical orientations that attempt to make sense of criminal justice phenomena. A theoretical orientation is simply an interpretive construct: a logically coherent set of organizing concepts, causal preferences, value clusters, and assumptions that work to orient our interpretations and understanding of criminal justice phenomena. The goal would not be to develop a single, testable criminal justice theory; to the contrary, the objective would be to illuminate the multiple theoretical lenses (broad-based interpretive constructs) crime and justice scholars use for helping people understand the behavior of the criminal justice system and trends in crime control.
The network of governmental agencies responding to the crime problem is universally known as the criminal justice system. Several theoretical orientations in the field are easily identified—the systems theoretical orientation being the most obvious. Most academics would agree that the systems framework has dominated the field’s thinking and research about criminal justice. The framework is derived from the biological sciences, Parson’s (1951) structural functionalism, and organizational studies. It has a strong reformist element, emphasizing the importance of enhancing criminal justice system coordination, efficiency, rational decision making, and technology.