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Pursuing Criminal Justice Through Effective Organizational Behavior


More than just enforcing the law and reducing crime, criminal justice agencies are faced with gargantuan challenges in the modern age that it needs develop salient functions in order to achieve their goals and be effective as an organization. Apart from protecting people from crime, their activities now reflect a broad range of social, legal, economic, political, and moral interests. Presently in the United States, criminal justice agencies are part of an interconnected system, run by professionals and constantly assessed, evaluated, and advanced by social scientists. To be successful and effective, the criminal justice system must be perceived as having authority by the community that it serves.

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The perception of authority and its legitimacy require confidence in the criminal justice system. The police, courts, and correctional agencies strive hard to gain the public’s confidence as they serve and protect their rights and welfare. This is the reason why organizational behavior should be at forefront of integrating criminal justice agencies so that they will be able to create a culture that would define their dynamics and they will be able to create strategies that would make their organization effective and efficient as a whole.

Main Text

Schermerhorn et al. (2005) defined organizational behavior (OB) as “the study of human behavior in organizations”. As the criminal justice system is composed of agencies and people, the salient understanding of how everything works in this system is vital for them to achieve their objectives as an organization. Schermerhorn et al. (2005) explained that OB “is a multidisciplinary field devoted to understanding individual and group behavior, interpersonal processes, and organizational dynamics”.

Thus, it is only right to apply OB in criminal justice agencies because it will guide them as an organization to develop a better work-related understanding between people that comprise the agencies, since OB will enable them to come up with applied disciplines based on scientific methods that include contingency approaches, where people can recognize the management practices that fit any situation they might encounter.

The important elements of organizational behavior are developing high performance work dynamics, making people adapt to any change, meeting the demands of the clients and applying organizational concerns for ethical behavior and social responsibility. For criminal justice system, OB elements were identified by LaFave and Israel (1991) by illustrating eight goals for an ideal criminal justice system:

  1. Establishing an adversarial system of adjudication. Neutral decision makers must make decisions in a forum where opponents can present interpretations of facts and law in a light most favorable to their case.
  2. Establishing an accusatorial system of prosecution. In such a system, the state bears the burden of proving the guilt of the accused.
  3. Minimizing erroneous convictions. Protecting an accused from erroneous conviction is an important goal of the process.
  4. Minimizing the burdens of accusation and litigation. The process must reduce the likelihood that innocent people will be accused of crimes.
  5. Providing lay participation. The criminal justice process must not be left entirely to government officials. Lay participation can ensure objectivity and independence.
  6. Respecting the dignity of the individual. The criminal process must ensure respect for privacy and autonomy, as well as freedom from physical and emotional abuse.
  7. Maintaining the appearance of fairness. Ensuring fairness in the process is not enough. There must also be an appearance of justice and fairness to the participants and the public.
  8. Achieving equality in the application of the process. Ensuring the just treatment of an accused is not enough. The criminal justice process must also ensure that like cases are treated alike.

These elements in OB can impact criminal justice agencies in several ways. For example, in cases when a crime has no clear suspects, a process needs to be followed intently to avoid accusing the wrong person. Like what happened to the case cited by Lechliter (2008), when a 19-year-old woman had been beaten, murdered, and left atop a burning bed in an Appleton, Wisconsin, apartment in 1985. The man suspected of killing her had already been charged with the attempted rape of a woman who looked strikingly like the murder victim, and in another sexual assault of which he was suspected, a bed had been set ablaze.

The lawyers of the victim wanted to pursue the wrong man, but the district attorney (DA) thought otherwise because though the circumstances strongly pointed to guilt, the evidence wasn’t there. Five years later the real murderer later wound up implicating himself when he spoke about the killing. Fact is that he was a burglar who panicked when the victim had returned to the apartment. He killed her, and then he set the bed ablaze.

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If not for the wise DA’s decision, the innocent man might have gone to jail. In an interview by Lechliter (2008), Shiela Berry, a victim/witness coordinator who was involved in that case, explained that although forensic evidence is a powerful testimony against a crime, criminal justice enforcers “must hold themselves to the highest of standards in order to avoid becoming a contributing factor to a miscarriage of justice”. It is important that people in the criminal justice system to remain objective and to stay honest and ethical. No shortcuts should be taken and a proper process should take place to avoid errors.

Ultimately, OB should be emphasized within criminal justice organizations because it is linked to how cultures are created, the mechanisms which transmit culture to new employees, the role of leaders in the transmission of culture, and how culture can be influenced by administrators. Future research in criminal justice OB will have to address the importance of organizational culture and offer suggestions on how it can be created and nurtured to fulfill organizational goals of criminal justice organizations.


LaFave, W.R. & Israel, J.H. (1991). Criminal Procedure, 1992 ed. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Co.

Lechliter, J. (2008). Truth in justice: organization uses web site to fight for rights of wrongly accused (Falsely Accused). The Forensic Examiner, 17(3): 84-87.

Schermerhorn, J. R., Hunt, J. G., & Osborn, R. N. (2005). Organizational Behavior. New York: Wiley.

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