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Paper Example on Substantive and Symbolic Public Policy in America

3 pages
592 words
Middlebury College
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Course work
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Public policy is a structured guide created by government, based on the laws of a state, on behalf of and for the benefit of the citizens of that state. Substantive public policy is the part of public policy that defines the actions government intends to either take or not take. The symbolic public policy represents principles and ideals that government aspires to while pursuing substantive public policy.

American Criminal Justice Public Policy

American criminal justice public policy is a complex system of laws, regulations, and policies that, in a free society, seek to quickly bring justice those who break the law and to harmonize the laws used in judging them to the crimes committed. There are parts to the criminal justice public policy that focus on crime prevention and post-justice rehabilitation. The American criminal justice public policy operates at all levels of government: federal, state, county and local.

Substantive and Symbolic Public Policy influence on Criminal Justice

The substantive public policy defines the various roles that are involved in delivering justice to criminals while ensuring the rights of all citizens. Collectively these functions are known as the criminal justice system. The substantive public policy also provides for the safeguarding of law and order throughout the country and at all times.

Major roles. Law enforcement works to make sure that citizens follow laws in society. If laws are broken, then it is law enforcement that apprehends the people involved. Prosecution represents the state in a court of law. Prosecution usually works closely with law enforcement in the delivery of justice. Defense attorneys represent defendants in the courtroom. Courts are the place where justice is considered and dispensed. The judge represents the authority of the court. Corrections are the institutions where justice is carried out on those sentenced by courts.

Symbolic public policy in criminal justice provides points of reference that are used by both government and society in measuring the performance of substantive criminal justice policies. Symbolic policy assists with uncovering unjust practices in the implementation of law and policy.

Substantive vs. SymbolicSubstantive public policy in criminal justice requires significant resource allocation from the state, including though not limited to financial. Symbolic does not place a substantial demand on the state for resources. Society pays much closer attention to substantive public policy than to symbolic public policy. The reason for the attention is that the implementation of substantive policy is what citizens experience and understand in their daily lives. Law enforcement is the most visible part of the substantive public policy. Therefore how law enforcement is conducted is the most important contributor to the perception of the criminal justice system by the citizens. Citizen perception of the criminal justice system is the feedback loop that influences how substantive public policy evolves in the future. The analogous feedback loop for Symbolic public policy moves is a much slower pace and takes generations to respond and develop because its ideas come from the rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.


The substantive public policy is the primary vehicle that delivers the criminal justice system to the citizens. Symbolic public policy acts as the edges of the roadway used in providing justice. Substantive public policy, therefore, has higher maintenance requirements than symbolic public policy. However, both need each other for complete service to the state and its citizens.


Miller, W.B. (1973). Ideology and criminal justice policy: some current issues. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology: Northwestern University School of Law.

Gupta, D. (2001). Analyzing Public Policy: Concepts, Tools, and Techniques. CQ Press



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