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Why is there a need to compare criminal justice systems?
Comparative criminal justice research can
point to ways to bring about positive
change. When required, question,
condemn, and denounce those criminal
justice practices that are ill-conceived,
ineffective, cruel, or even lethal (Pakes,
How do we make comparisons of criminal justice systems?
Comparisons of any kind, including
criminal justice systems, can utilize
case studies, focused comparisons,
and statistics to achieve them (Pakes,
Types of Comparisons
• Representative cases
• Prototypical cases
• Deviant cases
• Archetypical cases
• Most-similar designs
• Most-different designs
• Crime statistics (robberies, thefts, murder)
• Prison populations
Types of Case Studies
A representative case is a typical example
of a wider category of comparative
research. A comparative study example
would involve comparing a specific aspect
of one country’s criminal justice system
with that of another country. These could
include incarceration rates, crime statistics,
etc. (Pakes, 2019).
A prototypical case may become a
representative case at some future point
because of developments or changes in
laws or policy. An example may include
movements that are currently underway,
such as the movement here in the United
States to legalize and decriminalize
marijuana. Prototypical cases may provide
data for policy makers in other countries
seeking to follow the same legal path
A deviant case is utilized to illustrate
the unusual or unconventional and to
explain the contributing factors of
variables and why they act how they
do (Pakes, 2019).
An archetypical case is one that is influential or
seminal. Consider the example below.
When studying inquisitorial modes of justice,
the French one would be an appropriate
choice, as it can be said to be the
quintessential inquisitorial system. Similarly,
England and Wales could be said to be the
archetypical adversarial system of justice.
(Pakes, 2019, p. 18)
Focused comparisons are case studies
with more than one case to be studied.
Generally, the comparisons being made
involve two or three cases. Focused
comparisons are carried out using two
different research techniques: most-similar
and most-different designs (Pakes, 2019).
Focused Comparisons (Continued)
Most-similar designs involve the
comparison of subjects with like
variables. In the criminal justice
system, this could be court systems,
the rights of the accused, and
sentencing (Pakes, 2019).
Focused Comparisons (Continued)
Most-different designs are just the opposite
of most-similar case study designs. With the
most-different technique, the researcher is
not familiar with the various aspects of the
jurisdiction that is being researched. These
aspects include a lack of cultural awareness,
actual access to the jurisdiction, the
language, and biases (Pakes, 2019).
Statistical analysis may be a part of any of
the research designs previously discussed.
Statistics allow for the comparison of
different variables in a study, such as crime
statistics (robberies, thefts, murder), prison
populations, and recidivism rates (Pakes,
Above is an example of a statistical comparison of Percent
Change in Crime Rates for Consecutive Years 2014–2018.
Years Violent crime Murder Rape1 Robbery
Property crime Burglary
Motor vehicle theft Arson
2015/2014 +1.7 +6.2 +1.1 +0.3 +2.3 -4.2 -9.8 -3.2 +1.0 -5.4
2016/2015 +5.3 +5.2 +3.5 +3.2 +6.5 -0.6 -3.4 -0.8 +6.6 -1.1
2017/2016 -0.8 +1.5 -2.4 -2.2 -0.1 -2.9 -6.1 -3.0 +4.1 -3.5
2018/2017 -4.3 -6.7 +0.6 -12.5 -2.0 -7.2 -12.7 -6.3 -3.3 -9.4
(Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI], n.d.)
Watch the video Crime Statistics to gain a better understanding on the
background involving crime statistics.
The transcript for this video can be found by clicking on “Transcript” in the gray
bar to the right of the video in the Films on Demand database.
Cineflix (Producer). (2009). Crime statistics (Segment 6 of 17) [Video file]. Retrieved from
Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2018). 2018 January-June: Preliminary semiannual
crime report: Crime in the United States [Image]. Retrieved from
Pakes, F. (2019). Comparative criminal justice (4th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.