Procedural Justice

Procedural Justice in the United States

Procedural justice refers to the idea of fairness in the processes that resolve disputes and allocate resources. It is a concept that, when embraced, promotes positive organizational change and bolsters better relationships. Procedural justice speaks to four principles, often referred to as the four pillars:

  • fairness in the processes
  • transparency in actions
  • opportunities for voice
  • impartiality in decision making

Or, as Lorraine Mazerolle, Sarah Bennett, Jacqueline Davis, Elise Sargeant, and Matthew Manning wrote in “Legitimacy in Policing: A Systematic Review,” (Campbell Systematic Reviews 9 (2012)), it is based on four central principles: “treating people with dignity and respect, giving citizens a voice during encounters, being neutral in decision making, and conveying trustworthy motives.”

Research demonstrates that these principles contribute to relationships between authorities and the community (Tom R. Tyler, Jonathan Jackson, and Ben Bradford, “Psychology of Procedural Justice and Cooperation,” in Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice, ed. G. Bruinsma and D. Weisburd (Berlin: SpringerVerlag, 2014): 4014–4033) in which:

  • the community has trust and confidence in the police as honest, unbiased, benevolent, and
  • the community feels obligated to follow the law and the dictates of legal authorities; and
  • the community feels that it shares a common set of interests and values with the police.

Procedural Justice also focuses on the way police and other authorities interact with the public and how those interactions can shape the public view of police.

Procedurally just policing is essential to the development of good will between police and communities and is closely linked to improving community perceptions of police legitimacy, the belief that authorities have the right to dictate proper behavior. Research shows that when communities view police authority as legitimate, they are more likely to cooperate with police and obey the law. (1)

Establishing and maintaining police legitimacy promotes the acceptance of police decisions, correlates with high levels of lawabidingness, and makes it more likely that police and
communities will collaborate to combat crime.

A key finding of the research is that the public is especially concerned that the conduct of authorities be fair, and this factor matters more to them than whether the outcomes
of particular interactions favor them. (2) This means that procedurally just policing is not consonant with traditional enforcement-focused policing, which assumes compliance
is primarily a function of emphasizing to the public the consequences—usually formal punishment—of failing to follow the law.

Policing based on formal deterrence encourages the public’s association of policing with
enforcement and punitive outcomes. Procedurally just policing, on the other hand, emphasizes values that police and communities share—values based upon a common conception of what social order is and how it should be maintained—and encourages the collaborative, voluntary
maintenance of a law-abiding community. Research indicates that this latter approach is far more effective at producing law-abiding citizens than the former risk-based deterrence model. This makes intuitive sense—people welcome being treated as equals with a stake in keeping
their communities safe, as opposed to being treated as subjects of a justice system enforced by police who punish them for ambiguous, if not arbitrary, reasons.

Taking measures to enhance procedural justice within law enforcement agencies is becoming increasingly possible. Professors Tracey Meares and Tom Tyler of Yale Law School have worked with the Chicago Police Department and others to create a one-day training for line officers and
command staff that teaches them how to apply powerful procedural justice principles to their routine contacts with the public. Officers positively evaluate the training, especially since it improves not only public safety but their own. And a recently published peer-reviewed study found that the training increased officer support for all of the procedural justice dimensions included in the experiment. (3)

Indeed, there are many good reasons to cultivate a respectful relationship between police and communities, but the most important is that communities in which police are considered legitimate are safer and more law-abiding.



  1. Tom R. Tyler, Why People Obey the Law, 2nd ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006).
  2. Tom R. Tyler and Yuen J. Huo, 2002, Trust in the Law: Encouraging Public Cooperation with the Police and Courts (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2002).
  3. Wesley G. Skogan, Maarten Van Craen & Cari Hennessy, “Training Police for Procedural Justice,” Journal of Experimental Criminology 11(3) (2014): 319-334. (“[P]ost-training, officers were more likely to endorse the importance of giving citizens a voice, granting them dignity
    and respect, demonstrating neutrality, and (with the least enthusiasm) trusting them to do the right thing. All of the effects of training were strong, with standardized effect sizes ranging from 1.2 to 1.6. Longer-term, officers who had attended the procedural justice workshop continued to be more supportive of three of the four procedural justice principles introduced in training; the effect of training on trust was not statistically significant.”).

Further reading

  • Dai, Mengyan, James Frank, and Ivan Sun. 2011. “Procedural Justice During Police-Citizen Encounters: The Effects of Process-Based Policing on Citizen Compliance and Demeanor.” Journal of Criminal Justice 39: 159–168.
  • Gau, Jacinta M., and Rod K. Brunson. 2010. “Procedural Justice and Order Maintenance Policing: A Study of Inner-City Young Men’s Perceptions of Police Legitimacy.” Justice Quarterly 27: 255–279.
  • Mazerolle, Lorraine, Sarah Bennett, Jacqueline Davis, Elise Sargeant, and Matthew Manning. 2013. “Legitimacy in Policing: A Systematic Review.” Campbell Systematic Reviews 9: 1.
  • Meares, Tracey L. 2009. “The Legitimacy of Police Among Young African American Men.” Marquette Law Review 92: 651–666.
  • Papachristos, Andrew V., Tracey L. Meares, and Jeffrey Fagan. 2012. “Why Do Criminals Obey the Law? The Influence of Legitimacy and Social Networks on Active Gun Offenders.” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 102: 397–440.
  • 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.

Procedural Justice: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Procedural Justice. This part provides references, in relation to Procedural Justice, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Procedural Justice by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Procedural Justice and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Procedural Justice or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Procedural Justice and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Procedural Justice. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Procedural Justice should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Procedural Justice when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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