Legal Optimism: Restoring Trust in the Criminal Justice System Through Procedural Justice, Positive Psychology and Just Culture Event Reviews

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By John Hollway

Like any complex, dynamic system, the American criminal justice system makes mistakes. Unfortunately, criminal justice organizations lack a systematic process enabling them to learn from cases of error. Ignoring or minimizing errors erodes organizational legitimacy and contributes to a downward spiral of legal cynicism that increases violent crime. This paper describes the application of positive psychology and procedural justice to restore legal optimism—confidence and trust that the criminal justice system will respond in a just fashion to criminal activity—through Just Culture Event Reviews (JCERs), non-blaming multi-stakeholder reviews of cases where the system has erred. JCERs identify contributing factors to error and generate corrective actions designed to prevent those errors in the future, while accurately allocating systemic, organizational and individual accountability to protect communities and criminal justice professionals. JCERs offer the potential to enhance the legitimacy of participating organizations, generating increased engagement and affiliation with the criminal justice system from community members and criminal justice professionals. Infusing JCERs with specific positive psychological interventions designed to inspire trust, innovation and empathy can optimize their outcomes, creating a newfound legal optimism that has the potential to reduce crime over time.

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