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A strong and successful policy needs to meet certain criteria to achieve its objectives. Everyday policies are made in the world in different sectors, but few attain their goals or lead to any meaningful results. In criminal justice, policies are crucial, especially when carrying out reforms to correct certain challenges such as mass incarceration and the use of force. However, Reddington and Bonham (2019) proposed seven key criteria that strong policies need to have an impact on the issues they seek to address. A policy is judged based on its effectiveness, externalities, theory, efficiency, compliance, equity, and intervention effect.
The first criterion of a good policy is its effectiveness. Effectiveness involves the objectives of policy and whether they are being met or not. A policy that does not achieve its goals is ineffective. Consider a policy to reduce incidences of the use of force in law enforcement. Such a policy can only be effective if there is a reduction in the incidences of the use of force.
The second criterion is externalities, which are the side effects of a policy. A policy can have positive and negative side effects that may not have been expected. For instance, the use of force policy may result in law enforcement officers being killed and injured more frequently due to reluctance to use force even when necessary. As a result, a good policy should have controlled externalities to minimize negative consequences.
The other standard involves the association of a policy to existing theories. In criminal justice, several theories explain certain aspects. A policy needs to be assessed in terms of how it relates to these theories. For example, the bad apple theory suggests that a system would be effective without the few people who cause problems. The use of force policy based on this theory would thus seek to expel officers who use force.
There is also the issue of efficiency in policies. Efficiency is about getting the most out of policy with minimal input or reduced wastage of resources. The implementation of the policy requires finances, people, and other resources. A good policy should be effective by using optimum resources. For instance, the use of force policy should not have a high budget as it may strain departments. Therefore, a strong policy should ensure efficiency to help in the utilization of scarce resources.
A policy is also judged by its compliance with existing laws or the constitution. The constitution of the country should be the basis of policy formation to ensure there are no violations. A police department using a drone needs policies to guide its use. This policy is evaluated, for instance, on its compliance with the Fourth Amendment that guarantees the right to privacy.
Equity is another criterion that determines the success of a policy. Equity considers whether there is a balance in the distribution of inputs and outputs of a policy. Equity ensures that the burden of a policy does not rest on certain people only.
Finally, a policy is evaluated in terms of its intervention effect. Policies are designed to intervene or bring change. For instance, a policy to reduce mass incarceration is designed to intervene and reduce the prison population. It is, therefore, essential to have parameters that can be measured to determine the extent of the intervention. In the example of mass incarceration, the number of prisoners and arrests can be suitable measures of success or failure.
Policies play an essential role in a society designed to improve society. A good policy should be effective by achieving its goals, controlling its externalities, matching existing theories, ensuring efficient use of resources, comply with the law, providing equitable distribution of outputs and inputs, and having measurable intervention effect. These criteria serve as the benchmarks to sound policies.
Reddington, F., & Bonham, G. (Eds). (2019). Flawed criminal justice policies: At the intersection of the media and legislative response (2nd ed.). California Academic Press.
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