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Research and Policy Development in Criminal Justice

Research has proven to be effective in many disciplines like medicine or criminal justice. Numerous research efforts have been made to solve problems that have existed since the beginning of times. According to the US Office of Justice (n.d.), research is necessary and essential in the development of sensible criminal justice policies in addition to the development of and advancement of technologies that aid the valuable work of law enforcement agencies. Research also guides the policies that govern the expenditure of taxpayer finances. For instance, research can influence the proportion of funds to be allocated in different areas of criminal justice. This may follow the intensity of crimes and resources needed to address crime issues that are often determined by the conduction of research activities.

Since research has significant value in criminal justice and policymaking, the National Institute of Justice has worked hard on improving the knowledge and understanding of both crime and justice through scientific endeavors. Research has helped policy-makers in the criminal justice industry think about issues in addition to identifying and dealing with problems that need their attention (Petersilia, 1987).


However, crime rates have increased over the years. Such an occurrence clearly shows how much more research should be done to control crime and foster criminal justice in the society. Petersilia (1987) asserts that over the past 20 years, illegal activities have been on the increase, yet the police department budgets have either remained the same or decreased. In this context, research activities have police departments understand some of the relationships among their traditional practices, which are often expensive, and their goals. These goals include solving crime and making the population feel safe. In short, research is essential concerning policy development in criminal justice.

This paper seeks to describe the importance of research to the policy development in criminal justice. In doing this, some types and purposes of policies in criminal justice will be identified in addition to the description of the relationship between research and policy development. More so, examples of how research helps policymakers inform policy decisions. Finally, examples of policies that have resulted from research in the past 20 years in the field of criminal justice will be identified.

Types and Purposes of Policies in Criminal Justice

Many policy types are equally important in criminal justice. The objective of preventive policies is to prevent crime (Petersilia, 1987). In most police departments, police administrators believe that daily visits of police patrols of some areas prevent crime and make citizens feel secure. Such a thing leads to the assumption that police officers can respond quickly to being called secondary to criminal activity. In this case, faster responses were thought to elevate the probability of arresting the criminal suspects. However, Petersilia (1987) says that research known as the Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment led to the realization that preventive patrol had not prevented crime and reassured citizens.

On the same line, the researchers found that there was an insignificant relationship between the response time to locating a witness or even arresting a suspect (Petersilia, 1987). However, the most important finding was that what mattered the most was the time it took a local citizen to report criminal activity to the police rather than the time the police took to respond. Petersilia (1987) ascertains that these findings have been incorporated into robust policies as far as crime prevention is concerned.

Furthermore, some policies relate to the national economy concerning criminal justice. Such policies may relate to the economic indicators such as unemployment rate and income inequality (Farrall & Jennings, 2012). According to Farrall and Jennings (2012), several research findings have shown that areas with a high rate of unemployment are the worst affected by crime. In this case, the policies are directed towards tackling the problems that result in crime such as unemployment in addition to preventing the offence itself.

Some policies address corrections and rehabilitation individuals found guilty of a crime. Petersilia (1987) says that researchers found the basis for managing populations in prisons, which laid a background to some of the current policies. For instance, researchers have helped several states develop the classification systems that improve the assignment of criminals to maximum, medium, and minimum security prisons (Petersilia, 1987).

Relationship between Research and Policy Development

There is a great relationship between research and policy development not only in criminal justice but also in other disciplines. Policymaking in criminal justice relies on powerful activities of researchers. Garrison (2009) explains that criminal justice researchers who understand the decision-making process have a greater chance of influencing decisions through the provision of research that meets the needs of policy-makers. That means that research is inseparable from policymaking in both criminal justice and other disciplines.

Research has influenced the decision-making and policy development to a greater deal. In addition, the way the policies and plans are carried out in criminal justice is often influenced by research activities. A good example is from the way research is done and found that the time a citizen takes to report a crime to the police is what matters most rather than the time the police needs to respond to the reports of crime. A careful review of the criminal justice policy in the past 20 years provides substantial proof that research has and will strongly influence both the policymaking process and the practice (Petersilia, 1987). Petersilia (1987) asserts that some research studies have been assimilated into both policy and practice. He said that some of the people who were interviewed in his study had even forgotten that some of the policies originated from research activities (Petersilia, 1987).

Similarly, Garrison (2009) reiterates that research forms part of the process, which provides background information used for the deliberation of policies, creation of solutions to problems and context for understanding the common problems. It has been proven that during the time of developing policies, policy-makers seek research that forms the background for the policy to be developed. Therefore, the relationship between research and policy development is healthy and intact since the two coexist.

How Research Assists Policy-Makers to Inform Policy Decisions

Research activities provide empirical evidence about problems to the problems at hand. In addition, the researchers formulate recommendations that are based on the research findings. Such a thing can be helpful in helping the policy-makers. For instance, a researcher can solicit opinion from the locals and find out what is suitable for them as far as criminal justice is concerned. These findings are helpful as policy-makers can use them as the benchmark for formulating policies and making a decision among many others things.

There are various examples to illustrate how research has helped policy-makers to inform their policy decisions. Some of them are addressed in the study conducted by Petersilia (1987). Initially, most security prisons used to have all inmates together regardless of the kind of crime committed. However, Petersilia’s (1987) the research found that it would have been otherwise valuable and easier to handle prisoners if they had been classified. That helped the policy-makers create policies in line with the research findings. The result was the formulation of policies that led to the classification systems to improve the assignment of criminals to maximum, medium, and minimum security prisons.

Simultaneously, researchers played a crucial role in the sentencing policy of the US, specifically in the assessment of extending, to which sentencing practices achieved deterrence, rehabilitation, and incapacitation roles (Petersilia, 1987). The research found that rehabilitation was not the goal of sentencing while rehabilitation did not necessarily reduce recidivism. The research resulted in the shifting from indeterminate to determinate sentencing. Research has been very beneficial in enabling policy-makers to estimate the effects of strategies of sentencing on crime. Therefore, research assists them in making informed policy decisions.

Policies of the Past 10 Years Resulting from Research

In the USA, the incarceration of minor drug offenders is the chief cause of mass incarceration (Stevenson, 2011). Such a thing has been found to have increased the probability of additional criminal behavior and recidivism (Ofori-Dua, Akuoko, & de Paul, 2015). Drug counselling and treatment programs are very effective in the reduction of drug addiction and abuse compared to incarceration (Ofori-Dua et al., 2015). As a result, many policies have been formulated in tackling the problem as suggested by research findings and recommendations. That includes the policy of treatment and counselling of drug-related criminals.


At the same time, the costs of drug use in the USA are surprisingly huge (Humphreys & McLellan, 2010). In 2007 alone, the USA spent over $193 billion in healthcare, lost productivity compensations, and criminal justice. Humphreys and McLellan (2010) assert that research has revealed that the deaths occurring secondary to the drug-induced overdose are more than those of car crash and homicides. Therefore, policies aiming at the prevention of the criminal activities related to drug use over treatment and or incarceration have been formulated in the recent past. According to Humphreys and McLellan (2010), research has found a conclusion that each dollar invested in school-based programs for the prevention of substance abuse can save up to $18 that could otherwise be used in tackling the disorders produced at a later stage. Therefore, there are various policies in the past ten years emanating from research activities.


Research cannot be separated from policymaking in the field of criminal justice because research has had a positive impact in the making of policies since it lays the basis, from which policies are drawn. There are several types and purposes of policies in criminal justice whose development is related to research. Furthermore, research has aided the policy-makers inform policy decisions. Finally, there are several policies emanating from research in the past ten years.

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