consensus perspective | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminology

The consensus perspective in criminal justice views crime as societal norm violations, emphasizing shared values and the role of social institutions.

The consensus perspective in criminal justice is a theoretical lens used to understand and interpret the functioning of the criminal justice system. This perspective operates on the principle that social order is maintained when a society’s members adhere to shared norms and values, and it sees the criminal justice system as a key component in enforcing these shared principles.

Shared Values and Social Institutions

Central to the consensus perspective is the belief that society operates smoothly when there is a broad agreement or consensus on the rules and behaviors that are considered acceptable. These societal norms are shaped and reinforced by various social institutions like families, schools, religious institutions, and the media. These institutions play a crucial role in teaching individuals what behaviors are considered acceptable and what is not.

In this context, crime is seen as a violation of these shared norms and values. When an individual commits a crime, they are not only breaking the law but are also going against the consensus of what is considered acceptable behavior by society. This is why crime is typically condemned by the majority of society’s members.

Role of the Criminal Justice System

The consensus perspective sees the criminal justice system as an essential tool for maintaining social order. This system, which includes law enforcement agencies, courts, and correctional institutions, works to enforce society’s shared values and norms.

When individuals violate these shared norms through criminal behavior, the criminal justice system steps in to hold them accountable. The system accomplishes this through various means, such as arresting and prosecuting offenders, handing down sentences to convicted individuals, and supervising individuals who are on probation or parole.

According to this perspective, these actions serve to reinforce society’s norms and values and deter others from committing similar violations. In this way, the criminal justice system is seen as a critical mechanism for upholding social order and stability.

Emphasis on Individual Responsibility

The consensus perspective places a strong emphasis on individual responsibility and personal choice. It contends that individuals have the freedom to choose their actions and are, therefore, personally responsible when they choose to engage in criminal behavior.

This emphasis on personal responsibility is often reflected in the criminal justice system’s responses to crime. For example, when an individual is convicted of a crime, they are typically punished in a way that holds them accountable for their actions. This might include imprisonment, fines, or community service.


The consensus perspective in criminal justice presents a view of crime and justice that is based on shared societal values and norms. This perspective emphasizes the role of social institutions in shaping individual behavior and the criminal justice system’s role in maintaining social order. It also underscores the importance of individual responsibility, viewing crime as a result of personal choices that violate society’s agreed-upon norms. By understanding this perspective, we can gain a deeper insight into how societal values and norms influence our understanding and response to crime.

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 05/14/2023

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