It is widely recognized that the American criminal system is in a state of crisis, but views about what has gone wrong and how it could be set right can seem chaotically divergent. This Essay argues that, within the welter of diverse views, one foundational, enormously important, and yet largely unrecognized line of disagreement can be seen. On one side are those who think the root of the present crisis is the outsized influence of a vengeful, poorly informed, or otherwise wrongheaded American public and the primary solution is to place control over the criminal system in the hands of officials and experts. On the other side are those who think the root of the crisis is a set of bureaucratic attitudes, structures, and incentives divorced from the American public’s concerns and sense of justice and the primary solution is to make criminal justice more community focused and responsive to lay influences. The former view reflects a norm of bureaucratic professionalization; the latter view reflects a norm of democratization. This Essay defines the two camps, specifies the concepts of bureaucracy and democracy underlying each one, and identifies some of the unifying ideas on the democratization side. This Essay thus attempts to bring conceptual order to the present cacophony of voices on criminal justice reform by specifying the conflict of visions at their center. As the opening piece of this Symposium Issue of the Northwestern University Law Review—a symposium not just about democratizing criminal justice but in defense of democratizing criminal justice—this Essay also paves the way for what will follow: a full-throated defense of the democratic criminal justice vision.
Manifesto of Democratic Criminal Justice,
Nw. U. L. Rev.