What is Comparative Criminal Justice?

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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 17 March 2020
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Comparative criminal justice is a field where experts research legal customs around the globe and make comparisons. Their goal is generally to gain a better understanding of law enforcement practices and how they can be changed for the better. Colleges offer specialized degrees in comparative criminal justice, and the careers available to graduates are generally quite diverse, including everything from teaching to analysis.

The whole field of comparative criminal justice is generally based on the idea that people should learn from past experience. If the legal systems of other countries are analyzed in great detail, it is possible to see the results of several social experiments. Over the course of history, people have tried many different legal approaches, and the effectiveness or lack of effectiveness for different methods is often quite evident. Being able to see real-life practical results can often be much more enlightening than theorizing about possible outcomes of different legal policies.

An example of how this might be used involves the history of drug and alcohol prohibition laws around the world. If someone was to examine the policies of many different countries, it would be possible to see the pros and cons of varying approaches. This information could then be used to make better decisions about whether or not to implement drug and alcohol restrictions in a given country.


Experts who work in comparative criminal justice are also worried about other aspects of legal systems, such as police forces and methods of punishment. A lot of what they learn is based on the idea that legal systems tend to evolve over time through a series of basic setups. According to these ideas, societies generally start with a set of informal laws and gradually become more restrictive or formalized.

The kind of political system also plays an important role in determining how a legal system behaves. A society built around democracy and capitalism is likely to have a very different legal system than a theocracy with a monarchy or a socialist society with a dictator. Experts in comparative criminal justice even have specific expectations for the most likely kind of legal system in different governmental environments.

One of the main jobs available to people who earn a degree in comparative criminal justice is in international affairs. For example, they can help advise security personnel about the legal implications of activities in different cultures. Sometimes a subtle understanding of these issues is required when making international security decisions.


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