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Rice University

Publication Date

Fall 2019

Program Name

Spain: Policy, Law, and Regional Autonomy in Europe


Models of reform within the criminal justice system often operate from a top-down perspective, affecting change on surface levels to attempt to better the system. One example of such a reform is Scotland’s Presumption Against Short Sentences. These kinds of changes, as I will illustrate in this paper, both fall short of achieving genuine change and often produce negative side effects. However, a few countries have made deeper changes to the ways their systems both view and handle crime and punishment; one such system is Norway. Through rehabilitation and restorative justice, Norway has greatly decreased rates of recidivism, increased social wellbeing and shifted attitudes around criminality. This paper thus presents an argument as to why top-down models of reform such as Scotland’s are not effective, and why systems must be addressed from the bottom-up to effectuate actual change by examining efficacy and reasoning behind the institution of punishment. Further, I argue that that the United States system of law and order specifically both does not operate objectively and has been wielded as a historical tool of political oppression; I thus posit that small reforms will always fall short when proposed within the context of a system built off of economic and racial oppression. Due to the foundations of injustice within the American criminal justice system, I thus conclude that we must pursue deeper changes instead of peripheral reforms.


Criminal Law | Criminology and Criminal Justice | European Languages and Societies | International Law | Law and Society | Politics and Social Change | Social Justice


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