Another Commonsense Solution: Improving Procedural Justice


People of color are disproportionately represented in criminal justice systems in the United Kingdom (UK) just as they are in the United States. That’s why a new report by the UK-based non-profit organization, Catch22—a group that has provided public service delivery for more than 200 years—carries such relevance to our understanding of our justice systems and how to improve them. 

Fairness in the criminal justice system: What’s race got to do with it? presents findings from focus groups with people sentenced to English prisons, discussing issues of treatment and fairness, particularly as related to race. Participants expressed concern about a lack of racial diversity at all levels of the justice system—from law enforcement to prison staff—and described high levels of frustration at opaque decision making, leading to distrust in the intentions of the decision makers. The report recommends increasing diversity in criminal justice professions and creating a culture of transparency in justice decision making.

But why is it important to know whether people who go through criminal justice systems feel they are treated fairly?

Research shows that the perceptions of those who are handled through justice systems matter because when they believe they have been treated fairly, people are more likely to cooperate and to accept the outcomes of their cases. It is an often overlooked part of crime prevention and system improvement called procedural justice.

The Catch22 findings and recommendations are similar to those published by PJI in Have you asked them? Talking to defendants about money bond and pretrial release. That report describes how people brought into the criminal justice system perceived the use of money bail to be unfair, or inconsistent with the principles identified by procedural justice researchers:

  • That the system has your best interest in mind
  • That it affords you a chance to be heard
  • That the system is not biased against you,
  • etc.

Perceptions of procedural justice can be improved through many of the commonsense solutions that PJI supports: reducing unnecessary custodial arrests, transparency in the the decision to release or detain after arrest, transparency in pretrial risk assessment, and the elimination of any pretrial outcomes based on an individual’s ability to pay money.

By improving fairness, we can improve the perception of procedural justice, leading to better outcomes for justice systems and the people who move through them.

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