“How conflicting rewards systems can hinder criminal justice administration”


Given that the justice system should aim at ensuring fair treatment of all individuals in a country, conflicting reward systems lead to deleterious effects in the criminal justice administration. This paper is a reflection of the conflicting reward systems that are often found in the justice administration and how these systems are likely to affect the system. The work of Steven Kerr (1995) is used to give more weight to this discussion by showing how rewards often bring out undesired effects while they are in fact meant for good.

The various goals of the law enforcement department, corrections department and the court system are analyzed while incorporating the reward systems that are often in place in these departments. The paper uses these reward examples to show negative effects that could arise with these conflicting rewards in place.


Reward systems often serve the purpose of instilling desirable behavior in individuals at the organizational level. Depending on the organization, rewards could range from pay increases to promotions and recognition among others. It is however unfortunate that in certain circumstances rewards may not create the intended effect due to externalities that come with these rewards. Steven Kerr in his article analyzes how organizations reward actions while hoping to encourage certain behavior yet these reward systems are often fouled such that the results are no realized. The case of the criminal justice system is no different.

This paper will analyze various instances in which conflicting rewards are displayed and the various ways in which they are likely to affect the criminal justice administration. Reference is periodically made on Kerr’s article on reward systems.


The concept of conflicting goals has been blamed for the contradicting reward systems which more often than not lead to deleterious effects in the criminal justice administration. The various departments in the justice systems are known to share minimal information such that their goals and reward systems often end up contradicting. The conflict model of criminal justice holds that criminal justice organizations usually work competitively in producing justice rather than cooperatively (Nadre, 1990).

This often leads to conflicting goals as well as reward system in the justice administration which includes the law enforcing agents, corrections department and the courts. Each of these departments has their own goals and their reward systems are different. Whether the reward systems that are put in place work towards the desired goals is what Kerr (1995) challenges. According to Kerr (1995), normal human beings’ behavior and even that of animals tends to be inclined towards doing what will result into a reward.

This is to mean that they may pretend to perform actions that are likely to be rewarded and avoid those which will not be rewarded. The attractiveness of rewards serve to fuel this behavior which is the sole reason for failure of reward systems to meet their objectives. Instead of encouraging a certain outcome, the reward systems brings forth the another outcome (Kerr, 1995).

Conflict and differences in goals are witnessed between police officials and prison officials in that while police officials may particularly concern themselves with bringing in suspected criminals to the jails, they are overcrowding prisons which prison officials are trying so hard to reduce by ensuring speedy trials to release innocent suspects (Nadre, 1990). The court on the other hand has its own objectives which may conflict with the police and the corrections departments. The next session will discuss the different goals of the justice administration departments while assessing the reward systems.

 Willey (2007) identifies clearance rates as one basis for police rewards. He further notes that this is likely to make police develop the habit of appearing to work without actually performing what is expected of them. Clearance rates refers to the number of offenses and therefore depicts the number of crimes police sort out (Willey, 2007). Rewards could be based on the clearance rates such that the officers with the highest rates are rewarded.

As Kerr (1995) notes, behavior could be changed so that a person appears to be doing what is right so as to get the rewards. Similarly, false accusations to feign arrest and attributing crime without proper investigation so as to increase the number of crimes reported and cleared could result. In essence, the rewards were meant to encourage the police to work harder but instead leads to dishonesty on the side of the police and infringement of justice on the side of the citizens. This is in line with Kerr’s propositions and hence the need to properly examine reward systems in the justice system.

 The goals of the court system are to solve as many cases as possible so as to reduce the workload and ensure that justice is met. It is also upon the court system to reduce costs in implementing justice through the reduction in time taken for trial (Samaha, 2005). These are already two conflicting goals since there is no way justice can be acquired without incurring costs of investigation, tests and court sessions.

To attain this objective, the courts often use plea bargaining whereby suspects are given a choice to plead guilty and in turn obtain a shorter term (Samaha, 2005). This is a form of reward that suspects are given in return for reduced court appearances that will save the court money. In essence however, justice demands that a wrongdoer should be punished in accordance to the crime committed. The opposite here is done and the defendant instead gets a reward completely conflicting the justice objective. The result of plea bargaining is that it dissolves the meaning of justice and it could be misused by malicious judges who make threats of hard sentences to suspects if they do not plead guilty (Samaha, 2005). This could lead to imprisonment of innocent victims who could have been released with continued investigations.

The goals of the corrections department is to ensure that prisoners are reformed and that they can easily reconcile with the community after release. It is also their goal to reduce prison population through releasing innocent victims by speeding up trials (Nadre, 1990). They could also use paroles to reduce population and release prisoners who have shown commendable change in behavior.

As much as staff in the corrections department are rewarded, more rewards are directed towards prisoners. As Kerr (1995) notes however, it is not always that these rewards normally aimed at changing behaviors will work. Prisoners are likely to pretend to have good behavior so as to gain from reduced duties and special treatment within the prison compound. While they will end up being rewarded, their behavior has not changed on the inside. This is sometimes the case and the reason why some prisoners released on parole could end up in jail again.


The justice system braces itself to ensure that every citizen gets the fairness and justice that they deserve. Conflicting goals however can lead to failure to meet these objectives. The goals in the different departments differ such that they may contradict the others’ goals. Similarly, reward systems are different in each department in the criminal justice administration. As indicated in the discussion and in relation to Kerr, we realize that reward systems put in place in the justice systems do not always work as desired and this could lead to detrimental effects.

Rewarding police according to performance for example leads to dishonesty yet the reward is meant to improve performance. It is therefore wise that reward systems be properly selected to avoid these and other undesirable results.

Word count excluding abstract (1155)


Kerr, S. (1995). On the folly of rewarding A, while hoping for B. The Academy of     Management Executive, 9(1): 15-16

Nadre, P. (1990). The Criminal Justice Administration. New Jersey: Lulu Publishers.

Samaha, J. (2005). Criminal Justice. London: Cengage Learning.

Willey, J. (2007). Introduction to criminal justice. New York: McGraw Hill