How the Criminal Justice System Educates Citizens

20 Pages Posted: 8 May 2013

See all articles by Benjamin Justice

Benjamin Justice

Rutgers University

Tracey L. Meares

Yale University - Law School

Date Written: May 1, 2013


The modern democratic state interacts with citizens through various paths, but at least two are central: public school systems and criminal justice systems. Rarely are criminal justice systems thought to serve the educational function that public school systems are specifically designed to provide. Yet for increasing numbers of Americans, the criminal justice system plays a powerful and pervasive role in providing a formal civic education that mirrors, in the reverse, the education that public schools are supposed to offer. Deploying educational curriculum theory, we analyze three of the primary processes of criminal justice systems — adjudication, incarceration, and policing — to demonstrate the operation of two parallel curricula: a symbolic, overt curriculum rooted in positive civic conceptions of fairness and democracy, and a hidden curriculum, rooted in empty or negative conceptions of certain citizens and their relationship to the state. We conclude with a few observations and recommendations that grow out of seeing the criminal justice system as a source of civic education.

Keywords: education, curriculum theory, citizenship, legitimacy, procedural justice, democracy, criminal justice system, adjudication, jury, incarceration, policing

JEL Classification: I20, I21, K40, K42

Suggested Citation

Justice, Benjamin and Meares, Tracey Louise, How the Criminal Justice System Educates Citizens (May 1, 2013). Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 288, Available at SSRN:

Benjamin Justice (Contact Author)

Rutgers University ( email )

Tracey Louise Meares

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
203-432-4074 (Phone)
203-432-4876 (Fax)

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