In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Procedural Justice

  • Introduction
  • General Resource Materials
  • The Process Model of Procedural Justice
  • How Group Values Shape Perceptions of Procedural Justice
  • The Role of Power Holders in Shaping Procedural Justice
  • Vulnerable Citizen Perceptions of Procedural Justice
  • Procedural Justice in Comparative Contexts
  • Procedurally Just Interventions

Criminology Procedural Justice
Sarah Bennett, Lorelei Hine, Lorraine Mazerolle
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 April 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 April 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0241


Procedural justice (or procedural fairness) is defined as the fairness of processes used by those in positions of authority to reach specific outcomes or decisions. Existing research concludes that when citizens make overall judgments about the legitimacy of those in positions of authority (otherwise known as power holders), they are more concerned about procedural fairness (how they are treated) than they are about the outcome of the encounter. This bibliography covers the procedural justice literature relevant to the criminal justice system. The bibliography begins with the early work on adversary and inquisitorial trials by John Thibaut and Laurens Walker, who explored the relationship between procedural justice and fairness of decision making (see Thibaut and Walker 1975, cited under General Resource Materials). Since then, Tom Tyler has led the field in exploring the relationship between citizens’ perceptions of procedural justice and how this shapes their perceptions of legitimacy, principally in his book Why People Obey the Law (Tyler 1990, under General Resource Materials), the first major text on the subject. In this book, Tyler used survey data to show that citizen perceptions of procedural justice generate attributions of legitimacy, leading to self-reported compliance with laws. Following Tyler’s groundbreaking work, many empirical and theoretical studies have generated a body of knowledge that is generally referred to as using “procedural justice theory” to better understand the processes that shape citizen perceptions of authority. Procedural justice research since 1990 has sought to refine the relationship of procedural justice to legitimacy and the various outcomes of trust, satisfaction, compliance, and cooperation. Through this scholarship, procedural justice theory is now perceived to have two distinct, but linked, components. The first is referred to as the quality of decision-making procedures, where a power holder (such as a police officer, court official, or prison officer) intervenes in a situation (which is not necessarily an illegal situation) and gives citizens the “voice” to express their point of view, behaves in a professional and unbiased manner, and is perceived to be competent in the way he or she resolves the situation. The second component focuses on the quality of treatment, where assessments are made as to whether the power holder (i.e., the decision maker) has treated a person with dignity and respect. Both components need to be exercised for procedural justice to be delivered. These two components are often operationalized into four key constructs of procedural justice: voice, trustworthy motives, dignity and respect, and neutrality in decision making. Interest in and research on procedural justice has grown exponentially since the mid-1990s, particularly in policing, where research suggests that police can foster greater legitimacy, cooperation, and compliance when they engage with citizens in a procedurally just manner. There is great potential to apply procedural justice research to improve policy and practice in a range of different contexts.

General Resource Materials

Research in the field of procedural justice in the criminal justice system has grown exponentially since John Thibaut and Laurens Walker published their seminal book Procedural Justice: A Psychological Analysis (Thibaut and Walker 1975). In this book, the authors drew attention to how justice system processes could impact people’s perceptions of justice outcomes. However, it was Tom Tyler’s influential book Why People Obey the Law (Tyler 1990) and Tyler and Yuen Huo’s article “Trust in the Law” (Tyler and Huo 2002) that brought to the forefront the potential for how procedural justice could be applied in criminal justice contexts to shape perceptions of an authority’s legitimacy and foster willing compliance with that authority’s requests or laws. This section also contains a selection of foundational resources that mark the development of procedural justice research. For example, Solum 2004 provides an outstanding critical introduction to the function, theory, and significance of procedural justice. Törnblom and Vermunt 2007 insightfully explores behavioral reactions (e.g., retaliation) to procedural justice through the lens of resource theory. For an overview of the empirical research that has thus far been conducted on this topic, see Donner, et al. 2015 and Mazerolle, et al. 2013. The former is a systematic review that focuses on the application of procedural justice within both police encounters and police organizations, while the latter is a systematic review and meta-analysis of procedural justice as a mechanism through which to promote police legitimacy. Bottoms and Tankebe 2012 persuasively discusses the importance of a “dialogic” approach to procedural justice to facilitate shared beliefs and legitimacy. Nagin and Telep 2017 and Tyler 2017 both provide very engaging summaries of existing procedural justice research and its limitations, as well as direction for future research to advance the field.

  • Bottoms, Anthony, and Justice Tankebe. 2012. Beyond procedural justice: A dialogic approach to legitimacy in criminal justice. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 102.1: 119–170.

    Influential article that draws on the wider social and political science literature to extend conceptual understandings of procedural justice and legitimacy within policing and prisons. The authors convincingly argue for a dialogic and relational approach to legitimacy, focusing on power holder and audience legitimacy. They suggest that legitimate power holders communicate the shared beliefs and values of a society through the dialogue they use to interact with citizens.

  • Donner, Chirstopher, Jon Maskaly, Lorie Fridell, and Wesley G. Jennings. 2015. Policing and procedural justice: A state-of-the-art review. Policing 38.1: 153–172.

    DOI: 10.1108/PIJPSM-12-2014-0129

    This paper systematically reviews literature on procedural justice in policing. It uses forty-six studies to draw two key conclusions. First, citizen perceptions of procedural justice positively affect police legitimacy, satisfaction, trust, and confidence. Second, a procedurally just organization increases organizational commitment, trust, and job satisfaction among police officers. Procedural justice is thus considered both internally and externally important for police officers and their organizations.

  • Mazerolle, Lorraine, Sarah Bennett, Jacqueline Davis, Elise Sargeant, and Matthew Manning. 2013. Legitimacy in policing: A systematic review. Campbell Collaboration Library of Systematic Reviews 9.1.

    DOI: 10.4073/csr.2013.1

    This systematic review and meta-analysis synthesizes empirical research on procedurally just approaches to improving police legitimacy. Drawing on forty-one independent evaluations, the authors conclude that procedural justice is an effective means through which to improve citizen satisfaction, confidence, cooperation, and compliance with police. Their review identifies a lack of randomized experiments that isolate and test the components of legitimacy within policing interventions.

  • Nagin, Daniel, and Cody Telep. 2017. Procedural justice and legal compliance. Annual Review of Law and Social Science 13:5–28.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev-lawsocsci-110316-113310

    Nagin and Telep critically review the existing literature to examine whether procedural justice increases citizen compliance with the law, emphasizing that perceptions of procedurally just treatment are highly aligned with perceptions of legitimacy. They question whether causal connections can be made between procedural justice and compliance, and identify three key areas for future research. The article provides an excellent overview of current issues within procedural justice research and practice.

  • Solum, Lawrence B. 2004. Procedural justice. Southern California Law Review 78.1: 181–321.

    Develops and problematizes procedural justice. Presents and critiques three models (accuracy, balancing, and participation) as the basis of a comprehensive procedural justice theory. Explores this specifically within the context of case law and commentary. A useful resource on procedural justice within the context of law.

  • Thibaut, John, and Laurens Walker. 1975. Procedural justice: A psychological analysis. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    In this pioneering book on procedural justice, the authors integrate their respective disciplinary approaches to critically explore literature and experiments comparing “adversary” and “inquisitorial” procedures to determine which works better for justice and obtaining information. They propose an instrumental model of procedural justice such that people view procedures as fair when they have a sense of control or influence on the decision. Cross-cultural comparisons are made, and third-party decision-making is discussed.

  • Törnblom, Kjell, and Riël Vermunt. 2007. Towards an integration of distributive justice, procedural justice, and social resource theories. Social Justice Research 20.3: 312–335.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11211-007-0054-8

    Insightful article that uses resource theory to extend behavioral reactions to distributive and procedural justice theories. The three theories are juxtaposed and assessed, with the authors concluding that resource theory can increase the predictive power of procedural and distributive justice.

  • Tyler, Tom R. 1990. Why people obey the law. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

    Highly cited, this book discusses legitimacy within the context of lawmaking and law enforcement. Arguing against fear and punishment tactics, Tyler moves beyond Thibaut and Walker 1975 to argue that procedural justice is not just instrumental, but also relational. When criminal justice actors treat people fairly, they provide important symbolic signals that people are respected and valued in society, prompting them to obey the law primarily because they, in turn, respect legitimate authority. The book discusses procedural justice within the context of promoting respect and legitimacy.

  • Tyler, Tom. 2017. Procedural justice and policing: A rush to judgment? Annual Review of Law and Social Science 13:29–35.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev-lawsocsci-110316-113318

    Comments on the current research regarding procedural justice and its role in shaping legitimacy and compliance. Links legitimacy to consensual models of policing, which have been found to increase public cooperation and community engagement. Emphasizes the important role of legitimacy in moving toward a police service (rather than police force) model. Discusses the future direction of procedural justice research in policing.

  • Tyler, Tom R., and Yuen J. Huo. 2002. Trust in the law: Encouraging public cooperation with the police and courts. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Trust in the Law examines citizens’ reactions to and encounters with legal authorities. The authors argue that people are more accepting of legal decisions, regardless of the outcome, when they are treated fairly and with dignity and respect. They promote that authorities can influence willing compliance from citizens by applying procedural justice and motive-based trust.

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