Restoring Democratic Moral Judgment Within Bureaucratic Criminal Justice

Bibas, Stephanos | August 1, 2017

While America’s criminal justice system is deeply rooted in the ideal of a popular morality play, it has long since drifted into becoming a bureaucratic plea bargaining machine. We cannot (and would not want to) return to the Colonial Era. Even so, there is much more we can do to reclaim our heritage and incorporate popular participation within our lawyer-run system. That requires pushing back against the relentless pressures toward efficiency and maximizing quantity, to ensure that criminal justice treats each criminal with justice, as a human and not just a number. The criminal justice system must narrow its ambitions and scope, counteract professionals’ tunnel vision, make punishment more productive, and make criminal procedure more transparent and participatory. This Essay ends by gesturing towards how the United States might start to tackle these kinds of reforms.