What Is the Difference Between a Consensus Model & Conflict Model of Criminal Justice?

By Edward Cox
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Criminal laws are a reflection of certain values of the society in which the laws exist. Crime has been defined as a wrong against society proclaimed by law. However, in the United States, scholars and legal practitioners debate whether all elements of society are properly represented in the legal system. Proponents of the consensus model argue that even with a diverse population, such as in the U.S., the law is a reflection of society as a whole, while conflict model theorists promote the notion that a few are in charge of the legal system to the detriment of the rest of society.

The Origins of the Conflict and Consensus Models

The conflict and consensus models of criminal justice have distinct origins. The consensus model is rooted in John Locke's "Social Contract Theory," in which members of society willingly give control to governing entities. The conflict model, however, comes from Marxist ideology that focuses on class divisions, disparity and struggles for power.

Who Makes the Law

According to the consensus model, society as a whole makes the laws of the criminal justice system. The conflict model is quite different. It asserts that only a handful, perhaps a powerful minority, controls the establishment of certain acts as criminal.

Consistency in Societal Values

One of the foundational differences in the consensus and conflict models is whether the values of society, which are reflected in criminal law, are consistent throughout different elements of society. Consensus theorists believe that many values are widespread even in diverse societies. Proponents of the conflict model disagree, and assert that values vary significantly among different elements or classes of society, and, therefore, a criminal justice system cannot reflect the complete values of a whole society.

The Purpose of Criminal Justice

Ultimately, the differences in these models culminate in the actual purpose for a criminal law code. In the consensus model, criminal law is made by and serves the whole of society. However, in the conflict model the purpose of the criminal justice system is to maintain economic and political control by the dominant class.

About the Author

Edward Cox began writing and editing legal articles in 2007. He served as a note editor and author on work published in the "Journal of Agricultural Law." Cox writes about legal issues as a Drake Agricultural Law Center fellow. He holds a Juris Doctorate from Drake University Law School.