Book Chapter

The Ethics of Innovation in Criminal Justice


Graham H & White R (2016) The Ethics of Innovation in Criminal Justice. In: Jacobs J & Jackson J (eds.) The Routledge Handbook of Criminal Justice Ethics. Routledge International Handbooks. London: Routledge, pp. 267-281.

This chapter presents a bounded analysis of the nature and impact of innovation in criminal justice contexts. Implicit within this reflexive critique are some evocative questions. What constitutes innovation and who or what is being reformed? What makes advances in criminal justice just? According to whom and to benefit whom? Calls for criminal justice reform and public service innovation continue to saturate public, professional and academic discourses in many jurisdictions. Yet, while support for change in principle may be widely observed, it is not matched by a commensurate level of consensus regarding the forms and directions changes might take in practice, and why. In this chapter, we present one possible schema whereby innovation in criminal justice contexts can be analysed in a more systematic fashion. Specifically, after describing ‘social innovation' as the central concept of interest here, we start to test its possibilities by interrogating it in terms of what Siedman (2010) calls strategies of amelioration, disruption and transformation, and accommodation. In doing this, we reflect on the extent to which creative and pioneering forms of social innovation may be used not only to benefit the people involved, but also the extent to which they ameliorate, disrupt and transform, or accommodate macro-processes of mass supervision and hyper-incarceration. Against the backdrop of contemporary criminal justice systems and penal cultures, we use this schema to demonstrate that innovation is not morally or politically neutral. In other words, not all that is ‘innovative' is necessarily good or just (Graham and White, 2014). Questions about the forms and functions (‘what', ‘where' and ‘how') of innovation in criminal justice should not be divorced from questions about its architects and beneficiaries, including their intentions and ideologies (‘who' and ‘why'). Attention is drawn to issues of power and politics in considering which ‘innovative' justice initiatives are genuinely predicated on a logic of reform, and those which paradoxically propagate the status quo or mask the sources and effects of the carceral problems they are supposed to resolve.

criminology; criminal justice; ethics; innovation; social innovation

Title of seriesRoutledge International Handbooks
Publication date07/07/2016
Publisher URL
Place of publicationLondon