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January 2019 | Executive Session on the Future of Justice Policy A Call For New Criminal Justice Values


The U.S. criminal justice system expresses our nation’s values, for better or worse. For most of the early and middle 20th century, rehabilitation guided criminal justice policies, but in the 1970s and 1980s, notions of retribution, deterrence, and incapacitation emerged as replacements and signaled a dramatic shift in criminal justice policy. Now, as we enter an era of criminal justice reform, it is time for a new set of values. Parsimony in criminal punishment, which seeks the least coercive response, can undo the damage of overreaching incarceration. Parsimony in punishment serves the more fundamental values of liberty and limited government, which embody a distinctively American commitment to human freedom. While our history has clearly disappointed the values of parsimony, liberty, and limited government, the oncoming era of criminal justice reform opens the door to new and exciting possibilities.

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Arthur Rizer R Street Institute
The role of retribution in criminal justice

The value of retribution gained prominence during the 1970s and remains one of the most strongly held values in criminal justice. However, the certainty of punishment may be a more effective mode of deterrence, while the severity of punishment is a less or completely ineffective deterrent.

Arthur Rizer on the role of values in criminal justice

Arthur Rizer discusses the importance of defining our collective values and the role that a conservative voice can play in criminal justice reform efforts.

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"In today’s America, criminal justice lacks a cohesive set of values from which policymakers and practitioners may define their missions and align their purpose."

Arthur Rizer


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Limited Government: A society that values limited government as a key principle of criminal justice would call for a system of accountability that intervenes at the lowest level of authority first, with the power of enforcement as proximate to the people as possible.

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Parsimony: While limited government seeks to scale back and localize enforcement of the law, parsimony focuses on scaling back the harmful impact of punishments on the individual.

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Liberty: An individual’s liberties should not be permanently forsaken due to an infraction of the law.

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