nonsystem argument | Definition

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

The Nonsystem Argument is an argument that the components of the criminal justice system are in conflict and that there is actually no system at all.

Some writers have referred to this concept as the conflict model of criminal justice.

The Nonsystem Argument is a critique of the traditional view of the criminal justice system as a coherent and unified entity. Instead, this argument suggests that the various components of the criminal justice system, including law enforcement, the courts, and corrections, are in conflict with one another and that there is no overarching system or structure that guides their interactions.

Proponents of the Nonsystem Argument

Proponents of the Nonsystem Argument argue that the criminal justice system is actually made up of a collection of distinct and often competing subsystems. These subsystems may have different goals, values, and priorities and may be influenced by a variety of political, social, and economic factors.

For example, law enforcement agencies may prioritize crime prevention and public safety, while the courts may be more concerned with protecting defendants’ rights and ensuring fair trials. The Nonsystem Argument can be seen in corrections as well.  Agencies may focus on rehabilitation and reducing recidivism, while victim advocacy groups may prioritize the needs and concerns of crime victims.

Because different goals and priorities often drive these subsystems, they may not always work together in a coordinated and effective manner. Instead, they may be in conflict with one another, competing for resources and attention and even actively undermining each other’s efforts.

One consequence of the Nonsystem Argument is that it challenges the notion of criminal justice reform as a unified and coherent project. If the criminal justice system is not really a system at all, then efforts to reform it may need to take a more nuanced and targeted approach, focusing on specific subsystems or issues rather than trying to overhaul the system as a whole.

Criticisms of the Nonsystem Argument

Critics of the Nonsystem Argument argue that it oversimplifies the complexities of the criminal justice system and ignores the ways in which various components of the system are interconnected. They argue that while there may be tensions and conflicts between subsystems, there are also many areas of overlap and shared goals and that the criminal justice system as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Despite these criticisms, the Nonsystem Argument has had a significant impact on the way that scholars and policymakers think about the criminal justice system. It has raised important questions about the effectiveness and coherence of the system and has spurred efforts to identify areas of conflict and develop strategies for addressing them.


Overall, the Nonsystem Argument challenges us to think more critically about the criminal justice system and the assumptions that underlie our understanding of it. By recognizing the complex and often contradictory nature of the various subsystems that make up the system, we can begin to develop more nuanced and effective strategies for promoting justice and reducing crime.

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Last Modified: 06/30/2023


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